Questionable Motives

May 24, 2012

Is the prevalence of religious belief a sign of an unhealthy society?

Filed under: Education,Evolution,Religion,Society — tildeb @ 8:18 pm

Yes.

Oh, come on, you say. Religious belief helps us to deal with problems in a dysfunctional society… or so this favourite little religious meme assures us. But is it true?

Besides, how can anyone scientifically correlate religious belief to an unhealthy society? Surely the data must be cherry picked!

Well, Jerry Coyne (WEIT), the author of this paper published at Evolution, has collected a rather convincing stable of studies that does most of the arguing on his behalf. Granted, he is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, so he does have an agenda to promote a better understanding of evolution. But the numbers are quite clear: great swaths of Americans will not accept evolution. Jerry wants to know in particular why American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This paper answers the question with an inescapable conclusion: religious belief.

What can be done to change this deplorable condition – what Jerry calls a “national embarrassment” – of believing in anti-scientific religious belief over a robust scientific explanation that works for everyone everywhere all the time?

The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America.

Okay, if contrary religious belief is the problem, how can this grip be loosened?

Through difficult social change.

The reasons to correlate religious belief with a dysfunctional society are laid out clearly and succinctly drawing on dozens of recent studies. The data is compelling. I urge all readers to download the pdf and read this short paper for themselves, to see just how overwhelming are the various avenues of correlation, to think seriously about how and why this “disgrace” has come to be, what sustains it, what personal responsibility we share in pretending it’s not an ongoing problem accompanied by real life ramifications for our collective society. Don’t reject it out of hand because it disagrees with your religious beliefs. Think about it first.

We have to stop pretending religious belief is an accumulative good or something valuable enough in itself that its public face must be accommodated.  It’s not and we shouldn’t. It is a problem that breeds and excuses social inequity.

Concerned as he is with the problematic low level of understanding why evolution is true, Coyne concludes,

Ultimately, the best strategy to make Americans more receptive to evolution might require loosening the grip of religion on our country. This may sound not only invidious but untenable, yet data from other countries suggest that such secularism is possible and, indeed, is increasing in the United States at this moment. But weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian. Regardless of how you feel about religion, that is surely a goal most of us can endorse.

April 1, 2012

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills –

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

January 19, 2012

Why do we still believe when we know it’s probably not true?

Filed under: belief,Evolution,Natural Selection,Neuroscience — tildeb @ 11:41 am

It’s not about the benefits we gain from believing in this or that. Or the supposed reality of the objects these beliefs describe.

It’s all about cost.

There is a compatibility problem between science and religion that isn’t going to go away no matter how often many earnest people assure us is no problem at all. There is, in fact, a very real problem of compatibility. This compatibility problem has everything to do with how we arrive at conclusions, what method we use to get there, and whether or not the two methods are indeed compatible. This is where the method of science and the method of religion come into conflict. These different methods are contrary to each other.

In Victor Stenger’s new book, he writes

“Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies–the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world.”

This is just it, opposing – and not compatible – epistemologies.

So knowing the tremendous benefits and reward granted to us by trusting the method of science, how is it that so many of these same people continue to hold religious beliefs?

The religious believer must temporarily suspend trust and confidence in the methodology of science that s/he knows works for everyone everywhere all the time when conflict arises between on the one hand these trustworthy conclusions and on the other hand those from religious belief that compete and contrast with them. It is here – in this temporary suspension of what we do trust – where we have to wonder how anyone can do this and still consider one’s self intellectually honest and respectful of a method of inquiry that has produced so much practical and reliable knowledge… knowledge the believer will still trust his or her life to.

Martie G. Haselton of UCLA (and David Buss) along with and Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle have come up with what they think works at explaining just this. They call it Error Management Theory, which seems to offer a very convincing explanation described here in Part I of Psychology Today and Part II here):

Their theory begins with the observation that decision making under uncertainty often results in erroneous inference, but some errors are more costly in their consequences than others. Evolution should therefore favor an inference system that minimizes, not the total number of errors, but their total costs.

Among engineers, this is known as the “smoke detector principle.” Just like evolution, engineers build smoke detectors in order to minimize, not the total number of errors, but their total costs. The consequence of a false-positive error of a smoke detector is that you’re woken up at three o’clock in the morning by a loud alarm when there is no fire. The consequence of a false-negative error is that you and your entire family are dead when the alarm fails to go off when there is a fire. As unpleasant as being woken up in the middle of the night for no reason may be, it’s nothing compared to being dead. So the engineers deliberately make smoke detectors to be extremely sensitive, so that it will give a lot of false-positive alarms but no false-negative silence. Haselton and Nettle argue that evolution, as the engineer of life, has designed men’s inference system similarly.

Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the agency-detector mechanism.” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may have come from such an innate cognitive bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors, and thus overinfer personal, intentional, and animate forces behind otherwise perfectly natural phenomena.

Religiosity (the human capacity for belief in supernatural beings) is not an evolved tendency per se; after all, religion in itself is not adaptive. It is instead a byproduct of animistic bias or the agency-detector mechanism, the tendency to be paranoid, which is adaptive because it can save your life. Humans did not evolve to be religious; they evolved to be paranoid. And humans are religious because they are paranoid.

This explanation makes good sense to me. It helps to explain to me how otherwise rational and reasonable people – even some very accomplished scientists – believe in absurd religious notions incompatible with the world we know and the natural processes it contains. They believe because it appeals to a part of their reptilian brain… to which they must then spend considerable time and effort attempting to justify (to make compatible with) with their rational and reasonable faculties! Hence, we immediately see why the incompatibility in religious methodology to that of science is really based on nothing more than a feeling that the belief might be true. This explains the need of the religious to then cherry pick whatever seems to fit the belief while ignoring or belittling strong evidence of what doesn’t. Evidence doesn’t matter to a feeling. The cost of rejecting the feeling might be too high.

One might think it rational and reasonable for people dedicated to science to stop undermining public trust and confidence in its methodology to support beliefs that are almost certainly not true, but the personal cost of rejecting the impulse to believe seems to be too high; this feeling – this emotional urge – to err on the side of reducing potential cost, too often wins the day in the compatibility battle while transferring the actual cost of widespread but inaccurate belief – the very real cost of not allowing reality (like recognizing anthropomorphic global warming) to arbitrate what is true about it – on to all of us.

January 11, 2012

Why is being called an ignorant creationist redundant?

I like the Catholic Encyclopedia definition of ignorance in the sense I am using here, namely, a lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing rather than the standard notion of it meaning merely a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness… for which one may not be responsible. Creationists here in the West have no such similar excuse; instead, they are perfectly capable of knowing why genetics and the geologic time scale and evolution are not just true in some theoretical sense but true in the fact that they inform our technologies and practices that work consistently and reliably well for everyone everywhere all the time. We are populated by large numbers of people who doubt specific scientific inquires in order to maintain a belief in some kind of religiously motivated ‘creative’ agency… something I call divine POOF!ism. This is intellectually bankrupt and teaching it is as if it were compatible and supportive of science is simply not true. It is religious selfishness in action.

What excuse beyond selfishness do we find for so many Protestant pastors from this Southern Baptist Convention survey? Consider the following:

America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.

When asked if “God used evolution to create people,” 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.

Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.

A movement called Young Earth creationism promotes the 6,000-year-old figure, arguing that it is rooted in the Bible. Scientists say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

The Southern Baptist Convention survey, which queried 1,000 American Protestant pastors, also found that 74% believe the biblical Adam and Eve were literal people.

“Recently discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a report on LifeWay’s site. “But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve.”

Not only do so many of these people not keep their bizarre beliefs private but actually promote them through congregational teachings. And what many are teaching, even though they are beings quite capable of knowing differently, is if not factually wrong then grossly misleading because it is incompatible with what we do know based on what works consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time. In addition, these teaching are pernicious in that they cause intended harm through the promotion of willful ignorance contrary to the teaching of knowledge.

How can I say such things?

Well, consider the incompatibility of belief in an historical and literal Adam and Eve. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of genetics. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about how genetics work in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand heritable diseases and crop sciences, as but two examples. In fact, this belief is in direct and uncompromising conflict with our understanding of genetics that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong genetic evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that the smallest human population from whom we come was no smaller than about ~10,000.  To believe in a literal and historical Adam and Eve means that believers really do reject this part of science we call genetics.

Consider the incompatibility of belief that the world is fewer than ~10,000 years old. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of geology. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about the age and formation of rock strata and the forces that have affected them over time that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand resource exploration and extraction and erosion and tectonics, as but four examples. In fact this belief in young earth creationism is in conflict with our understanding of geology (and radioactive decay) that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong geological evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that we live on planet that has undergone significant change over a great deal of time. To believe in a created earth means that believers really do reject this part of science we call geology (and, by extension, the age of other planets).

Consider the incompatibility of belief that our biological heritage is from divine creation by an interventionist agency. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understand of evolution. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about biological development and change over time by what is known as natural selection (it would not be ‘natural’ if traits were selected by some interventionist agency) that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand biology and medicine, to name but two. There is very strong evolutionary evidence unaccounted for by such a creationist belief that life on earth is related yet differentiated by natural selection over a great deal of time. To believe in creationism means that believers really do reject this part of science we call biology.

So what’s the harm maintaining such a dismissive belief? After all, we are assured repeatedly by many earnest religious believers and apologetic accommodationists that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are actually compatible… and even mutually supportive! So my question is – as always – Is this claim true?

I need to divert for a moment and look at ‘science’ in the larger sense and understand why this argument about creationists respecting science – but not these specific scientific avenues – is just not true.  Science, let us recall, is a METHOD of inquiry and not the results of an inquiry. In other words, exactly the same METHOD is used to investigate, say, genetics as it is germs, aerodynamics as it is astronomy. It makes no sense to suggest that it is somehow compatible and supportive to reject that METHOD here but not there in order to privilege some prior religious belief. It’s actually dishonest. It is neither compatible nor supportive to suggest that the belief in geocentrism does not stand in contrast and competition with heliocentrism when the two notions are incompatible – they are necessarily in conflict – any more than it does to suggest biblical inerrancy should be granted to the story of Adam and Eve but not biblical inerrancy to the sixty some odd reference to the earth as the center of the universe. To reject the specific science that informs genetics and geology and evolution to privilege religious beliefs incompatible with them is contrary to being supportive of the METHOD of science used to inform all other scientific inquiries. It is that identical METHOD that shows us that the geocentric model fails where the heliocentric model succeeds for everyone everywhere all the time. It is that METHOD that informs all these practical applications and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time derived from the specific scientific inquiries so vilified by supporters of creationism. By rejecting genetics and geology and evolution to favour and prejudice some holy scripture, creationists are rejecting the METHOD of science used to inform not just these specific scientific inquiries but ALL OF THEM.

This has a pernicious effect… especially in medicine.

Evolutionary theories are critical for understanding human disease. They are used to understand the origins of cancer and to better design therapies, which directly help our understanding through evolutionary history to explain modern health problems (such as type-II diabetes and obesity). It is upon these evolutionary theories that we have learned to appreciate viral evolution, which is used to design safe and effective vaccination strategies that work. For example, an evolutionary viewpoint is the only way to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and to develop effective methods for stopping or slowing it. Defining the evolutionary process of cancers is leading to new, more targeted approaches in cancer treatment. How we incorporate these evolutionary ideas into medical education enhances the education of health professionals, which is in stark conflict with creationist belief (that usually blames sin for our earned deaths… such a cheerful and optimistic bunch). Our biomedical science gains from understanding human evolution and allows us to design and implement solutions to our vulnerability to disease. The evolutionary approach to medicine and public health is enormous, informing areas of research and providing predictions and guidance for novel interventions.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific quest to know.

It isn’t. At all.

Now consider the incompatibility creationism presents as an alternative to the benefits from informed medicine and how many future doctors and medical researchers are turned away from this pursuit in the name of honouring the religious beliefs of their parents and pastors about creationism. Think of how many students are affected when creationists in all their various lying for Jesus and Allah guises try to insert this theology into science classrooms or religious students who do everything they can to remove specific scientific inquiries like evolution from their educational curriculum.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific METHOD. It’s simply not true.

Creationism – and its gaggle of handmaidens of other necessary beliefs contrary to specific scientific inquiries – is in direct conflict with the METHOD of science that produces what works for everyone everywhere all the time. This is why such belief that sidelines legitimate and honest inquiry into reality is not a ‘different way of knowing’ or some separate but equivalent Magesterium. Creationism is a turning away from honest scientific methodology (methodological naturalism) and insisting on a return to ignorance. Ignorance is the real alternative people are choosing when they reject and ignore knowledge we have that works for everyone everywhere all the time, knowledge upon which companies invest trillions of dollars, knowledge that has the effrontery to work consistently and reliably well in reality over time. By staying faithful to beliefs that are wholly inadequate to reveal what works in reality by comparison, people are choosing ignorance over knowledge to maintain their religious belief. The sacrifice costs. Yet still many are teaching  creationism to their kids and want it taught to the general public. They want respect for this ignorance established in law and want to base public policies on extensions of it in areas like research and human reproduction and foreign aid. It’s ignorance in action, what we atheists like to call ‘turtles all the way down’. It’s a ruse, a lie, an intentional deception, a willful disregard for what is true in reality to pretend creationism is an equivalent and respectable alternative to specific scientific inquiries rather than the ignorance in action it honestly is.

It’s high time more of us reminded creationists determined to insert their beliefs into the public domain of this brute fact, that being an ignorant creationist is in fact and deed redundant.

(h/t Pandasthumb)

October 3, 2011

Why is irreducible complexity wrong?

Filed under: Evolution — tildeb @ 10:37 am

Or, for the few who grant creationism any merit whatsoever – presumably by some divine intervening agent of Oogity Boogity,  “Why did a creative agency make all life on earth look exactly like it underwent only evolution?”

Much to the chagrin of creationists everywhere, the fact of the matter is that evolutionary biology is our best predictive understanding of how life has come to be. We can treat its tenets as fact and produce medical technologies and applications that work reliably and consistently well. But is that a bummer? No. It just means that creationism is just another run-of-the-mill fairytale. And we can say this with a great deal of confidence because:

The evidence is out there, for those who wish to find out for themselves.

The experiments have been done, for those who think there are fatal gaps in evolution.

The simulations have been run, for those who think evolution isn’t fully predictive.

My advice to creationists of all stripes is that closing your eyes to the world around you will not change reality. It’s time to put aside childish beliefs and open the eyes to what’s marvelously and wonderfully true in fact:

The genetic code did evolve in spite of childish and ignorant creationist beliefs to the contrary.

Get over it already.

(h/t cdkoo7)

September 14, 2011

Who are stupid and ignorant people?

Filed under: creationism,Dawkins,Evolution — tildeb @ 4:52 pm

Those who deny evolution, of course!

I was just thinking of such people over at Eternity Matters where I was  concerned enough to craft a comment about a truly awful analogy that suggested an Oreo cookie slipped into a beaker of water represents equivalent evidence for the intentional design of everything by the Big Oogity Boogity Himself.  Understand that, as is usual on blogs where the admin is promoting a religiously inspired anti-evolutionary faith-based fairytale, my commentary is almost always moderated, usually left in moderation, published but edited, and quite often deleted if the argument is too well written … presumably because its just unwanted noise to the love-in of the harmoniously deluded reality deniers.

In this interview between Jeremy Paxman and children’s author Richard Dawkins (The Magic of Reality), Paxman asks if he really cares that there are stupid people around (after referencing 40% of Americans who believe the bible to be a literal and historical account). Dawkins says he does care, that he is concerned that children are being misled by stupid and ignorant people, because he thinks children deserve to learn what’s true and wonderful about the world into which they have been borne. No guff, eh? Furthermore, he says it’s a “crying shame” if children are denied that opportunity by stupid and ignorant adults as Paxman describes them. So why am I still thinking of Neil, the blog host, over at Eternity Matters? Hmmm…

Have a listen:

(h/t WEIT)

September 13, 2011

Why is the creationist movement so dangerous?

Because it is anti-intellectualism writ large. It most often an anti-science, anti-evolution stance (even when it pretends to be compatible) and it is infecting half of the governing parties of the US to the extent that someone who recognizes evolution and global warming as built on scientific foundations commits political suicide in the Republican party. Nearly 70% of Republicans reject evolution. So how does this reflect anti-intellectualism and anti-science to believe in creationism?

Too often too many of us buy into a notion that this difference of opinion between – let’s pick one particular science-based position – evolution and creationism means a difference in where we place our beliefs: with one side claiming some form of belief in an active, intervening creator – one who intervened and created humans either directly or intervened at some historical moment to instil into humans qualities which links the specialness of being human to our divine Designer – and the other side presented as exercising the same kind of belief in science – that all life on earth today descended from common ancestors subject to natural selection over a great deal of time. But this framing is a false dichotomy – one that favours the notion that everyone is a similar kind of believer differing only where we place our faith-based beliefs: in god or science . This, of course, is simply not true.

Faith-based belief lies entirely on the one side that false divide, one that favours the POOF!ism (or POOF!-insertion) of an intervening diety. On the other side of this divide are not those who apply the same kind of faith-based belief whatsoever; people who respect evolution are those who respect science. They respect that inquiry into the nature of the universe means to inquire into it using a method that provides us with testable, practical knowledge about it, knowledge that works reliably and consistently well for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not faith. That’s not a faith-based belief. That’s a method that uses reality. Because this inquiry relies on reality to arbitrate what’s true in nature, it is not a faith-based belief that relies on something supernatural to arbitrate what is and is not true by the authority of god… in whatever form that message may seem to appear (scripture and revelation). Confidence in the results of the scientific method is not – in any way, shape, form, or fashion – a similar kind of faith-based belief that presumes the truth of an untestable conclusion as a premise but rather a method of inquiry that follows the evidence wherever it may lead and that reveals only what’s true from testing in that reality.

These two positions are not similar, nor do they produce equality of confidence. They are neither compatible methods of inquiry nor mutually supportive ways of knowing. They stand diametrically opposed when in conflict – like they do between belief in creationism versus confidence in the mutually supportive and overlapping causal evidence of evolution (the micro/macro qualification introduced by theists is scientifically incoherent) and are uneasy allies only when faith-based beliefs align with what’s true in reality, although many organizations responsible for promoting good science will claim that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Although technically true if no conflict is present, the position is untenable when it is. Only creationism that places intervention in such a way to not stand in conflict with the irrefutable evidence for evolution seems at first glance to be compatible, but on closer inspection reveals a decisive incompatibly, namely, the difference between evolution properly understood as a mindless, agency-less natural process versus one that is guided in some way – presumably with purpose and intention – by some mind with agency. The two are not compatible descriptions of evolution at all, any more than it would be if someone were to insist that gravity or erosion is guided by mindful agency when no evidence is available to support these claims about these process in reality.

There is no middle ground to be found here that is mutually supportive; one position is either true in nature or it is not. With no way to test the faith-based claim that there really, really, really is agency, there is no way to avoid a fundamental conflict over whether evolution is a natural or an unnatural, supernatural process; whether evolution is a mindless, unguided, purposeless process or a mindful, guided, purposeful process. Evolution in reality cannot be both. Theistic evolutionists would argue it’s possible, but only when the language becomes so befuddling that no one knows what anyone is actually describing. Metaphysics plays a central obfuscating role in this regard. Clarity, however, is the first but by no means the last casualty in this rearguard action by the faithiests.

Creationism, then, is one expression of a faith-based belief that stands contrary to science. There are no scientific results that support it. Those who say there really, really, really are results that can only be ‘explained’ by inserting a supernatural agency (followed closely by the assumption that this divine mind just so happens to favour Jesus’ over Thor’s as the inevitable result by a vast margin) do so only by grossly misrepresenting data, exaggerating both what is known and unknown by ruling out any role for plausibility, and even outright lying by presuming they can speak as if informed on what they cannot by their own admission know… keeping in sight the same sense of the term ‘know’ as they do of the influence of gravity and erosion.

Yet there are scientists who support creationism, so surely there must be something scientific to their belief. Nope. When their theistic evolutionary beliefs are examined, we find they believe for entirely the same reason as anyone else: as a faith-based faith.

So why is creationism so dangerous?

It is dangerous because it is politicized to bring benefit to those politicians who elevate faith-based beliefs over and above the findings of science if they just so happen to be contrary and incompatible to the faith-based claim. This means that respect for science as a method of inquiry and respect for why science’s findings inspire a higher level of confidence when something is true for everyone everywhere all the time are held as a value to be lower than, and secondary to, faith-based beliefs that have no such requirements. When this trust in faith-based beliefs plays out in other political areas where the results from scientific inquiry is incontrovertible but contrary to some faith-based belief, guess which side these politicians will support? Faith over science… what is believed to be true over and above what is true in reality. And this is exactly what we see in the political considerations from climate science; the results show anthropomorphic global warming leading to significant effects in climate refuted by many of the pious not on the basis of good science where 98 out of every 100 climate scientists concur, but by the faithful elevating the 2 scientists who disagree on theistic grounds to be an equivalent ‘side’ of some imaginary ‘debate’. But the debate is not in the scientific community (other than very normal, highly typical, quibbles); it is between those who respect faith-based beliefs as the primary revelation of what is true in nature and those who have confidence that reality arbitrates what’s true in reality. When leadership hopefuls don’t really care about reality, then surely the vast majority of citizens being asked to vote will judge this lack of caring to be a significant liability. It is a liability in every other area of life, so that should offer us a clue if we aren’t sure.

This incompatibility between faith-based beliefs and science cannot inform wise public policies when we have conflict between them. And because those who support faith-based beliefs cannot even agree among themselves what is true in nature, I see no reason to think that anything will or even might change should such people get into public office intent as they are on serving first and foremost those reality-deniers who put them there. Not only will science be relegated to a supportive role of faith-based beliefs, which I think is bad enough, but to the shock of no one except the colossally stupid I think we find it inevitable that we will have public conflict between those who support competing faith-based beliefs. How can those who view faith-based beliefs as equivalent to what’s true in reality not make faith positions part of our political discourse? How can they not use the state to influence policies that will tend to favour one set of faith-based beliefs over another? Even those who hold faith-based beliefs superior to what’s true in reality really have almost as much to lose as those who respect science by supporting a winning faith-based politician. This is where accommodationism leads, where belief in the compatibility between science and religion will take us: into the political and into public office and into the public domain and all its institutions. We already see this on the Supreme Court of the US, its military, its public education in ongoing battle with ‘teach the controversy’ and ‘academic freedom’ to teach Oogity Boogity as some kind of alternative yet compatible science.

The danger of the creationist movement is to replace our quest to know about reality backed up by what’s true in reality with the assumption we already have the ability to answer all the questions we might have through faith, and can then safely ignore – like we are doing with AGW’s causal link to climate change – reality’s role in telling us we are wrong in our beliefs. Nothing good can come from this delusional trust of Oogity Boogity, and that’s why it’s dangerous to have any confidence in those who are so willing to reject reality and present themselves as the champions of what is indistinguishable from a collective of ignorance.

September 7, 2011

What is evolution and why is it true?

Filed under: Dawkins,Evolution,Jerry Coyne — tildeb @ 3:39 pm

For those who may not appreciate what evolution is nor why it is a fact, please enjoy this award-winning presentation by Doctor Jerry Coyne, Professor of Genetics at the University of Chicago, website host and author of the best-selling book Why Evolution is True:

August 25, 2011

Why is ignorance of evolution a litmus test for politicians?

Filed under: creationism,Dawkins,Evolution,IDiocy,Intelligent Design,stupidity — tildeb @ 9:57 pm

I know this is already done to death around the internet but it is so well expressed and so succinctly that I must re-post it here because it reflects my own opinion and disgust at voters who empower such politicians:

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

Just so.

The author, Richard Dawkins, has expressed it bluntly in this article: there is no excuse except pandering to the stupid for such willful ignorance to be held by anyone with a reasonable grasp of reality and the ability to learn. There is certainly no reason except stupidity to reward such idiots in politics. Those who do reward it with their vote need to be opposed in very blunt terms: they are exercising idiocy – or, in Discovery Institute wedge issue terminology about Intelligent Design, IDiocy. Voting for a creationist who denies the fact of evolution is an idiotic act that attempts to empower ignorance of those who hold a belief contrary to what is true in reality into positions of authority over all us in the public domain. Stupid is as stupid does. That’s what voting for a anti-evolutionist means: an exercise in stupidity.

(h/t pharyngula)

July 19, 2011

What is true and how can we know?

In conversation with many people of faith and accommodationists, I often face a postmodern notion I find deeply disturbing: a claim that what’s true is in the eye of the beholder – whether a believer or non believer. The notion of respecting reality to be any kind of arbiter for claims about reality seems to be a trivial point for many believers when discussing metaphysical notions while the liberal use of the term ‘truth’ in its supposed multiple guises falls off the tongue with ease when they unfailing apply these same notions to matters OF reality.

That’s cheating.

Such an assumption about the nature of what’s true – to afford the believer a way to effortlessly cross this line of demarcation between the metaphysical and the physical – allows subjective faith claims about god to be presented as equally valid ‘truths’ that somehow compete successfully with the scientific sense of the word ‘truths’ about physical reality. This is a bait and switch tactic, of course, in that a scientific truth is different in meaning than a faith-based assumption. The relativist would have us accept that each of us can subjectively assign the word ‘truth’ to whatever claim we want to believe and that this has no significant and detrimental affect on what we can know is true for all. The common misapplication is that something can be true for some but not for others in matter within this universe, such as jesus really, really, really was the son of god and performed miracles… as if each of us has a separate and distinct claim that is equally valid merely because we assign belief or lack of belief to it. But conclusions held to be true in the scientific sense of the word do not work this way.
As Jerry Coyne writes over at WEIT:
Different theologies have different “answers,” and even within a single faith different people diverge in their notion of religious “truth.”  In contrast, scientists—regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or nationality—converge on single, agreed-upon answers (of course there is still scientific disagreement about many cutting-edge issues). Water has two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules whether you’re a chemist in Africa, Eurasia, or America.  DNA in the nucleus is a double helical molecule consisting of sugars and nucleotide bases. Evolution is a fact for scientists in every land, for they can all examine the massive evidence supporting it.  There are many faiths; but there is only one science. The fact that different people from different backgrounds converge on the same scientific answers also implies that there really are objective truths about the universe.
And truths about reality that can be known, I will add.
Also, we need to recognize that a lack of evidence for certain faith-based truth claims about reality has an important bearing on the equivalency of faith-based beliefs and scientific conclusions that are at odds. And nowhere is this more evident than in the dishonest presentation of evolution by agenda-driven supporters of certain theologies as just another kind of belief similar to a faith-based one. This is an intentional misrepresentation – what many of us legitimately call ‘Lying for Jesus’ – of what is true in reality and an organized attempt to discredit the scientific method in this matter only to serve those who wish to pretend that reality in this matter only has no bearing on what we can know about its truth. These self appointed lovers of science in all other matters do not find this theologically driven hypocrisy to be disturbing to their equilibrium of intellectual integrity. Theology in this sense can be seen to exercise its power of selective anesthesia.
This use of the term ‘truth’ based on a shared materialistic and physical reality (existing separate from our subjective wishes but in which we are immersed) decries the believer’s failed postmodern notion that all truths are subjective.  In contrast to a scientific ‘truth’ that recognizes the submission of what is true to the constraints of reality – that we recognize and test through evidence found in reality and not what we simply believe or wish to be true –  if there were objective truth about God (and his nature and intentions and desires and expectations revealed to believers through revelation), scriptural authority, explanatory dogma we should find believers to be of the same faith. That within christianity we find well over 30,000 different sects should be seen as very strong evidence recognizable even by the postmodernists and other faith-based believers that subjective truth claims are not true in any reality-based and meaningful way comparable to a scientific truth claim. The word ‘truth’ is being abused by relativists-with-an-agenda where its central meaning – being in accord with a particular fact or reality – is simply ignored in order to co-opt its scientific sense for the believer’s own and dishonest purposes.
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