Apparently, creationists love me

I don’t know whether I should be flattered that I appear to be that notable, or offended that my points seem to be so categorically missed. First the wrath of the geocentrists, now this.

So, way back this spring we took a gander on down to Winnipeg’s Creation Museum – yes, it exists, and yes, it is in a church basement, and yes, the church is full of people who believe in a literal Genesis story (which one, it’s still not quite clear), replete with Adam and Eve and plant-eating T-Rexes. There was a question and answer period after the tour of the “museum” (room). John Feakes, the pastor of the church, was an amiable, genuinely nice guy, but he was espousing some very odd interpretations of reality, including those which even Answers in Genesis has distanced itself (like the “human” tracks along side dinosaurs at the Paluxy River, which are pretty much irrefutably also the tracks of dinosaurs. Or you could go with giant humans with feet that look remarkably dinosaur-like in nature. Sure.)

In any case, in the question period, I asked him something along the lines of how he could refute the molecular evidence for evolution – that evolution predicts structural homology, that was used to create trees of life, and molecular biology has been used to confirm those exact same trees of life (with a few surprises which now explain a lot more about how life evolved). His response… well, I’ll let him tell the story in a lecture that he gave to the faithful. (This comes in at about the 51 minute mark)

Now I locked horns with a couple of atheist groups now, uh, last… year? They came out to see me. We talked for five hours on evolution and creation and all that kinda stuff. And one girl, she stood up at Q&A time, and she was very adamant, she said “I’m a scientist, and evolution has been proven, and now we can draw family trees based on the molecular data, and it’s just so scientific.”

And I said “Okay, just a minute here. Umm you’re telling me now, did whales evolve from galloping terrestrial mammals like cows, or something else? Right? Okay now, and we got into this whole thing where now the new molecular data shows they actually evolved from hippo-like creatures. [Sarcastic] Right.

I said “Okay, so are you saying that your family tree based on how these things look got replaced by a tree based on the molecular data?”

She said “Yes, that’s true.”

I said, “Okay, now, I want to tell you what Dr. Klassen said, because he is a flag-waving evolutionist. He was out debating creationists; he debated Duane Gish, back in the 80’s.” I said, “he said ‘If these things don’t line up, evolution’s been falsified.'”

[mimicking me with incredulous sputtering] Well that’s just his opinion and… [trails off]

Well, I’m not going to say he misrepresented me because I think he is more honest than most creationists – notice the “cow-like” and “hippo-like” animal references, rather than crocoduck accusations. He also prefaces this reference to me by talking about how the morphological tree of life based on morphology is rubbish, that it’s been thrown out and taken back to square one with the evolutionary tree. This is of course, completely false. Here’s a 2009 paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that looked at just that – comparing molecular to morphological data in mammals and molluscs. It turns out, in the overwhelming majority of genus, we were spot on with our homology data, or a single branch got bumped to another genus. Keep in mind that this is specific stuff here, it’s distinguishing between Homo sapiens, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis, etc. Of our entire genus, one branch would be booted out and go, no, that’s really not as closely related to those as we thought, they’re better suited to say, Australopithecus.

The Tyrrell Museum is my favourite museum ever. Seriously, if you've not been, go. There's a great exhibit on evolution right now. (Plus lots of other fantastic things)

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy as from my understanding of the paper it was referring to only living species – however, consider that there are 20 species of common house mouse in the Mus genus presently, and any movement of those branch points to a different genus (say, a field mouse) counts as a hit. 65.8% of the time, molecular biology confirms exactly what we had figured out by phylogeny. 65.8% of the time! And this is being extraordinarily stringent, allowing for no minor corrections. If you include these minor corrections (a single species being moved from field mouse to house mouse origins, or inclusion of other branches which were thought to have diverged earlier), we were now right 87.3% of the time. What are the odds of a random, incorrect theory based on wild assertion getting two completely separate, independently verified pieces of data to agree 87.3% of the time. The other 12.7% of the time where we were wrong? Well these are the surprises that John Feakes points out. Look at this 12.7%, he says, and please ignore the 87.3% of the time that they got it right. Keep in mind, also, that this is from within Classes – certainly no mammals were being shown to be more genetically similar to molluscs or vice versa.

This seems like a good time for a happy dinosaur break.

So yes, I did agree that the whale was a surprise. Yes, I should have been able to form a better argument than saying it’s an appeal to authority (but truly, it was the first time I’ve ever encountered the “so-and-so said” technique and was shocked by it.) None of that changes the fact that, the majority of the time, we were absolutely right. And the overwhelming majority of the time, we were very nearly right. No amount of personal incredulity will change the fact the odds of this happening by mere chance are extraordinarily low (p=0.029).

Which are, shockingly, still better odds than your family ever having taken a recreational slide down Apatosaurus' neck

In fact, the authors of this papers state that “These results likely represent a worst-case scenario for morphogenus monophyly. Much of the compiled molecular work focused on ‘problem taxa,’ those known to be resistant to morphological analysis (e.g., freshwater bivalves, oysters, bovids).” These data are merely a conservative estimate on how right we were, based on data with a bias towards areas of morphological contention, and further works under the assumption that our genotyping techniques are perfect – and of course, errors are always possible. And they still were completely right in 65.8% of mammals.

If that isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.

This was not my ancestors' family pet 6000 years ago, this is a the sort of thing that ate my shrew-like ancestors 20 millions years ago.

Oh, and as a final note, I resent being referred to as a “girl.” It implies immaturity, it’s condescending and it’s dismissive. It makes me sound like I’m playing dress up with big-girl pants. No one would refer to the guys who stood up to ask questions as “boys.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask to request the same level of respect.

Top three things that have appalled me today!

Apologies in the break in posts – I’ve moved provinces to begin medical school, but I’ve started classes and gotten settled in now, so all should be well. Also, hooray, I’ve finished the first draft of my thesis!

Number 3

Made by Nestle, whose corporate slogan has recently been updated to "Nestle makes the very best effort to hold onto antiquated sexist marketing schemes despite all better judgement"

You can sort of see what they were going for in 1976 when this chocolate bar first came out – chocolate is a “girl” thing so they were trying to include men into their market. Perhaps in 1975, perhaps any man who ate a dainty looking chocolate bar had his gender identity put into serious question. I don’t know, it was a different time. In any case, this is a common marketing scheme in the chocolate industry. Snickers and O Henry bars both have advertising campaigns which prominently or exclusively feature hungry men going for a tasty hunk of chocolatey diabetes to quell the need. There’s nothing wrong with targeting your marketing like that (and the “You’re not yourself with you’re hungry” commercials make me laugh).

But seriously, “It’s not for girls?” Seriously? I mean, even if they’re going for “it’s not for wimps” concept, which I still take offence to, couldn’t they do it in a way that doesn’t tell 50% of their potential market that they are undesirable as customers? And they even take use a derivative, dismissive word (girls). Why not market it as “Chocolate for men?” They also make separate packaging for the British military on which it says “It’s not for civs [civilians].” That’s fine! This product is only going to military personnel, and they’re trying to imply that the chocolate is as awesome as the members of the military. FINE. But don’t say Yorkies: It’s not for retards. It’s stupid, bigoted, and condescending.

Yorkies: It's not for cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Number 2

Britain set ablaze as unrest sweeps throughLondon, and other UK cities, in 3 days of riots

What the hell, London? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for peaceful, positive protest. It’s the moral high ground when things are not as they should be. I don’t know the full story behind the cause of these protests (there was a gunfight with police during which a 29-year old man was killed) and perhaps police violence is a major issue in the area, which has many disadvantaged populations and economic issues. I see no problem with protesting outside the police station to make sure that justice is served for the man who was killed.

What I do have a problem with is this:

More here

And not just one night where oops! things get out of hand, someone in downtown Vancouver thinks it would be awesome to loot or light that garbage can on fire because the Canucks lost. This is the third night in a row that there has been massive destruction of private property. There is no justification for this. It appears that organized crime is using the chaos to capitalize on the situation and initiate the looting and destruction. I repeat, what the hell, London?

Number 1

Michelle Bachmann is a front runner as a Republican Presidential candidate. You know, the one who’s married to a guy who has an alleged de-gaying program. The one who advocates intelligent design. The one whose platform isn’t just a violation of the separation of church and state, it’s based on advocating religion. The one who believes that all abortions, no matter when, how or why (including medical emergencies which could kill the mother), are wrong. The who believes that the law comes from and should be based on the Bible and only the Bible. This woman has a shot at being the next leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, whose economic problems are presently shaking the global market, whose problems ripple back to us.

If that doesn’t appall you, then I don’t know what will.

Where is the objective morality?

My recent evenings have been spent at my computer logged into a Christian chat room. I recently viewed a video on Youtube promoting this chat room as the atheists defeat zone, the narrator exclaimed that Atheists have lost 31 debates, in a row, to the theists of this chat room. Challenge accepted.

And he has fricken laser beams that shoot out of his eyes! Evolution Win!

Being a curious cat, ever ready to punce on something shiny, I clicked the links and logged in. I was immedatly bombarded with “Atheists have sex with goats” and other derivitives of the concept of beastiality. A fellow by the screen name of American Christian proclaimed “This is the reason I will never ask an atheist to look after my dog.”

The conversation was based on objective morality being proof of a god. The theists argued that god gives morality and therefore anyone not subject to gods “law” would be free to do whatever they want including rape, torture, murder, theft etc. without consequence or rational thought. To a theist, objective morality falls under the umbrella of God and without belief in the almighty dictator a person is incapable of being objectivly moral.

With garlic butter.... /drool

I argued that a belief in god is not a requirement nor is it recommended to be objectively moral. I cited the many immoral people who believe in god far exceed those that do not in federal prisons. I also argued that morality is a product of civilization.

Bottom line, Religion does not make you moral. Morality is a product of social pressure. What is perfectly moral in the middle east, could be considered completely atrocious here in North America (ex. Women being stoned for adultery, female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, etc.) and vise versa (ex. Eating pork, Pornography, bikinis , etc.). Morality is a philosophical manifestation of social norms and has demonstrated that neither a God or humanity has the slightest clue as to the proper interpretation of the rules of objectivity.

The conversations then turned when a man by the screen name of Nephilimfree decided to exclaim that “science has disproved evolution!” He then went on to babble for nearly half an hour citing every creationist unsubstantiated claim he could in support of a god created world. He then posted several articles where he quote mined the first paragraph, which was meant to sensationalize the actual study, which stated that “Hundreds of natural selection studies could be wrong.” This character refused to stop talking and allow an opposing view point to come into the discussion. He repeatedly kicked a speaker off of the microphone with his abused moderator privileges.

Plugs ears "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!"

Yesterday, I came across this story in which a man killed his 4 year old boy under suspicion that he was a homosexual and a 28 year old woman for being infertile. Both these killings were done in the name of christianity and ultimately a personal god.

At least the fish get fed, right?

I asked what these christians thought about this man. They said it was gods will or something to that effect. To be fair, one person said it was wrong and he should be punished by law. Christians are not all bad. Just most of the crazy ones are.

Earth Wars: Revenge of the Geocentrists

So it looks like Robert Sungenis is no longer willing to just give poorly attended lectures and enter stacked debates, but has decided that he needs to go Hollywood with his poorly founded, ignorant, and paranoid ramblings. Seriously, they’re trying to make a documentary, Expelled-style. I’m not going to lie: I’m scared. Not scared of what he has to say, not scared of his challenge to science, not scared of dissent.

I’m scared of all those Good Christians™ of America will see this crap and think that God mandates that we give equal time to this “theory.” It scares me to see the world slipping backwards, the public’s hearts more easily swayed by rhetoric and conspiracy theories than good, evidence-based, exciting knowledge. Superstition and paranoia is so much easier than the truth for far too many. Sungenis is charismatic and assertive enough that this stands a chance of having someone listen –  and what then? With the death of the American (and, by proxy, Canadian) space program, will we ever look up at the night sky and be humbled as Sagan did when he waxed poetic? Or would we allow those gaps that contain God to grow?

"There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." - Carl Sagan

How can we make science capture the imaginations of people the way that these cons can? It becomes more and more clear that the only way forward is to proactively prevent these blatant attacks on science. We need to be loud, active voices for rational, skeptical thinking. Anyone with any iota of skepticism will easily see through Sungenis’ fallacies, and misrepresentations.

I fear for the ones who don’t.

In Which The Universe Revolves Around Robert Sungenis – Part 2

See Part 1, in which I discuss the lecture, here

Let me begin by apologizing for the delay in completing this analysis. Needless to say, it was a daunting task to dissect the debate in a comprehensive way. Although I cannot possibly encompass the extent of ridiculousness that occurred that evening, I humbly offer my very best attempt. 

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, often falsely (and ironically) attributed to Mark Twain

After “Dr.” Sungenis’ performance the previous evening, I must confess that I was quite excited by the prospect of having someone debate him. He clearly was an experienced orator, but it was hair-pullingly aggravating to have to sit through a solid hour of his verbal diarrhea. The prospect of someone calling him out on his insane conclusions delighted me, though I must admit that I had trepidations as well. I knew in advance that the individual who had stepped forward to debate Dr. Sungenis was not a professor of Astronomy, or even a graduate of that program. They had recruited, with a week’s notice, an undergraduate student. A knowledgable undergrad, but nonetheless, it hardly seemed fair.That none of the faculty stepped forward to open the can of proverbial whoop-ass was disappointing. I would have sorely loved to see him verbally eviscerated.

Nonetheless, the introductions began on a similar note as the night before. Mr. Adam Cousins, undergraduate. Dr. Robert Sungenis, doctorate! Again, the moderator emphasizes Dr. Sungenis’ penis thesis length, as if this should be impressive. I believe we have happened upon a new fallacy, my friends:

Argumentum ad book length-ium

Although, perhaps I should give some credit, as I confess that unlike the good doctor, I would probably not be able to vomit 700 pages worth of logically untenable text. I suspect I would be all tuckered out by page 40 and be ready for a nice cup of tea and a nap.

In any case, the statement to be debated was “A geocentric system is a false cosmological assumption.” Notice that this put Adam on the positive side of the debate – it was his job to defend reality, rather than to attack Dr. Sungenis’ argument. It was also worded in such a way that it could not be argued that geocentrism can be a useful cosmological assumption, as a frame of reference, say, in the orbit of the moon. Ultimately, the debate was asking Adam to prove Dr. Sungenis as wrong, rather than Dr. Sungenis having to prove himself correct. It is a subtle distinction, but utterly key in maintaining an unfair advantage. As long as Dr. Sungenis could plant some seed of a doubt, demonstrate that in some minute way that geocentrism was possible, the debate was his to win.

Continue reading

In Which the Universe Revolves Around Robert Sungenis – Part 1

On March 29, 2011, Dr. Robert Sungenis descended on the puddled and pot-holed campus of that pinnacle of higher learning – the University of Manitoba. He provided a comprehensive lecture on why modern science is a large, looming monolith which suppresses reality, ostracizes non-believers and does some downright dirty things… which he, of course, kindly contrasted with the Catholic Church. He spoke (after a 20 minute technical delay) to a packed lecture hall 29 people who were willing to take some time out of their Tuesday night to entertain the notion of geocentrism. That is, Dr. Sungenis argued that the entire universe, including the Sun, revolves around us.

Dr. Sungenis is one of the top names in geocentrism, having co-written the definitive, and, as near as I can tell, only, modern textbook on geocentrism. (Side note: He shamelessly promoted this book throughout the lecture, claiming to be holding back valuable evidence in support of his ideas. The thing itself could be used to hold down a helium balloon in a hurricane, though at the $80 price tag, I would suggest finding a moderately sized boulder instead.) He obtained his PhD. from an unaccredited distance education program, and is quite proud of the fact that his doctoral dissertation is over 700 pages long. By contrast, normal research-based theses are around 150-200 pages long. Not only does that indicate the sort of quality of education Dr. Sungenis received, it is a lovely demonstration of his complete inability to get to the point.

Pictured: "Totally not a diploma mill" PhD education in Theology, Homeopathy or Energy Healing. Not pictured: PhD education in Website Design

So, Dr. Sungenis began his talk with a long and drawn out discussion that hardly seems worth mentioning but for two points. The first is that he quote mined and then insulted Carl Sagan. Blasphemer! The second is that his logic seems to come down mistaking correlation for causation in the downfall of the Catholic Church. It is as follows: People use Galileo as an example of things that the Catholic church has gotten wrong in the past. Since Galileo’s time, the Church has fallen in prominence and atheism has gained in popularity. Ipso facto, heliocentrism leads to atheism. Later on in the lecture, he actually said verbatim that if you did not believe in a geocentric universe you were atheist. He mentioned nothing of the numerous rational individuals who manage to somehow synthesize heliocentirsm and Catholicism. Nor does he ever demonstrate how accepting his model would mean that the Church is and always has been right about everything.

Ray Comfort - Prominent atheist?

Early in the lecture, I became acutely aware of the fact that Dr. Sungenis is a huge fan of quote mining. I was willing to forgive him for the Sagan misquote, as it is easy enough to unintentionally misconstrue Sagan’s literary devices and poetic language. However, one of his early quotes (and honestly, I don’t remember which, as there were plenty of them) contained so many ellipses that my only notes on the subject are “Ellipses seizure!!” This was a recurring theme over both days and descended from the precipices of “casual and appropriate reference to someone who had something thoughtful to say” to the dark depths of “dredging scientific papers for things that could be deliberately misrepresented.”

Dr. Sungenis, hard at work.

He then continued to say that current theories based on heliocentric models have not been proven. This is a familiar creationist claim that has been so thoroughly debunked that it’s almost tiresome to mention it. He, either deliberately or through some vast oversight in his research, fails to understand that theory cannot ever be 100% proven. The theory only works in every conceivable situation we have applied it to – and there are a great deal of those! Of course, what he asks scientists to provide him with are absolute certainties, and being good scientists, they give him assertions with qualifications. He interprets this as uncertainty and dissent, when in reality, it’s intellectual honesty.

Then, he moves onto a history lesson. He barely touches on Copernicus, except to say that he thought that the orbits should be perfect circles and that this was incorrect. He argues that the advancement of this knowledge proves that previous theory should have been utterly discarded when it was in fact refined (and simplified) to fit the observable evidence. Of Galileo, he has much to say. He argues that the Church was right to condemn his works, though fails to mention his imprisonment. Implicitly, he condones the censorship as the right call – the very censorship which he claims and opposes for today. He argued that the only reason that the Church (much later) allowed Galileo to be stricken from the blacklist was through “subterfuge.” Yes, it was a grand conspiracy, as Napolean had stolen the relevant records from the time, and someone else had argued that the Church objected to one particular aspect as opposed to the whole thing, but no one could prove anything, and so the church revoked the ban on publishing but did not condone heliocentrism.

That shifty jerk probably spat on orphans, too.

Though interesting from a historical perspective, I was confused as to what this had to do with anything. Though he was pointing out numerous ad hominem arguments against a sun-centred solar system, he did not stop to consider that perhaps, jackasses can have good ideas too. Whether there was grand conspiracy or not, whether some heliocentrist killed a geocentrist in a duel or not, whether Galileo had a fun time poking dying people with a pointy stick – it’s all irrelevant to the quality of the theories which they supported. Although Dr. Sungenis never considers his critiques a fallacy, could we hardly expect more from someone who has clearly never learned how to critically dissect science.

Of course, Newton was the next to come up. Although Physics, as a discipline, is a mysterious entity that my brain simply refuses to fully grasp, I could see the basic flaws in his critique of Newton’s Laws. “F = ma!” he stated as if he had struck upon something significant. The same slide espoused Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. “Look,” he opined, “The force is the same no matter which object is rotating around the other! Geocentrism is just as valid as heliocentrism and Newton proved it!”

Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation

As Tim Minchin says in Storm, “Hm that’s a good point, let me think for a bit; Oh wait, my mistake, it’s absolute bullshit.” Dr. Sungenis defeats his very own point by referring to F = ma, which means that acceleration = Force/mass. Therefore, acceleration will decrease proportionally with the mass of the object, and the sun, which is far more massive, will accelerate less than a much smaller Earth. This point was never questioned, but I am truly curious as to how Dr. Sungenis fails to comprehend this basic observation about reality. You don’t need Newtonian physics to understand that the same force applied to a ping pong ball and a cement truck will have a lot more affect in accelerating a ping pong ball.

She could totally send your house flying with that paddle.

Perhaps anticipating that argument, he asserted that the earth was the central mass of the universe, and yet did not show how we could possibly exist on a planet, which, being more massive than anything else in existence, would not crush us into a fine dust by that same gravitational law. Ultimately, I believe that such confounding arguments were part of his strategy – if you get everything so utterly wrong, it’s nearly impossible to refute him without going back to the beginning and giving an hour long Grade 10 level lecture on Newtonian physics.

Ultimately, he asserted that Newton and Einstein should be made pariahs on the basis that they took a theory (heliocentrism) and modified it to fit the evidence. This was the proof, at last, that the whole system should crumble. Those nasty scientists had the gall to observe the universe and find a way to improve our model of it! I’m not sure what he would rather have – since Dr. Sungenis repeatedly attacked science for being stuck in a paradigm, does he want change, or doesn’t he? He seems to misunderstand that scientists don’t treat theories like antique vases. Nobody says, “Look, we’ve got a theory now, so put it on a shelf and for God’s sake, don’t break it.” Science takes that vase and throws it against the wall for the express purpose of breaking it. Usually, it doesn’t, but where the real science happens is when everyone bends down to pick up the pieces.

One set of those pieces that scientists are currently trying to put back together is the so-called “Axis of Evil.” The hullabaloo is that the axes seem to point to the plane of our elliptical around the sun. This is consistent in the dipole, quadrupole and octopole. Here it is:

And there you have it. Geocentrism is fact, ladies and gentlemen.

If you’re confused, so was I. I have no idea what these diagrams mean aside from something to do with cosmic background radiation. He referred to these images over and over again as proof of… something? Honestly, he made no effort to explain what we were looking at or what it meant. He did take this out of a Science editorial in 2007 by Adrian Cho (subscription required), who summarizes the controversy nicely.

Some suspect that the axis may be an illusion produced by an unaccounted bias in how the satellite works. And even those who have studied the alignments note that exactly how unlikely they appear depends on which mathematical tools researchers use to analyze them. Still, many are taking it seriously. “I would say that with a bit more than 99% confidence you can say there’s something strange,” Schwarz [of the University of Bielefeld, head of one of two teams who discovered the findings] says.

So, we found something we can’t explain. And, because we’ve not got another universe to compare this one against, we have no idea if this interesting phenomena is a statistical fluke, or something else entirely. We have no control group. It’s an observable thing, but, so far, it’s just a thing. The fact that I had spend 20 minutes reading about this phenomena to even have a cursory understanding of what he was talking about shows just how poorly he explained the concepts involved. It was a “Look!! Science!! I’m smarter than you so you couldn’t possibly understand this, but trust me, this is science!” kind of moment. He threw around words like “quasar” “isotropic” and “anisotropic” without definition or explanation. I was annoyed.

Na na na boo boo!

Other “evidence” was the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which showed all the galaxies in the observable universe, with us at the centre. By definition, if we can see a specific distance all the way around us, we will be in the centre.

Look, we're at the centre of the observable universe!! ... Wait a minute...

The diagram which Dr. Sungenis showed had a much larger “void” in the middle where there were no galaxies, likely due to a logarithmic scale, but I can’t be sure as he did not tell us what the scale was or what it meant. The galaxies also seem to occur in specific periods around the Earth, which he pointed out, but again, this proves nothing, as there could be a repeating period, and we are in the one across the middle which includes the Milky Way (not shown, because the Milky Way obscures our view of the universe)

Finally, he came to his piece de resistance, luminiferious ether. Not only has this concept been thoroughly debunked, he didn’t bother to explain what ether was, or why it had any sort of relevance to his theory. Honestly, I just don’t get it.

Ultimately, Dr. Sungenis’ arguments fell into one of many fallacies: ad hominem attacks, nirvana fallacynegative proof fallacy, appeal to authoritycherry picking… it goes on and on. Dr. Sungenis’ talk was heavy on just that – talk – but it came up several furlongs short of anything a rational mind could call evidence.


Part 2 – the Debate, can be found here.

13% of biologists question evolution

Boy, AIG would have a field day with my laboratory. So, as it turns out, I found one of my long-time coworkers in the lab is actually a young earth creationist. Another is a professed intelligent design supporter (“There’s not enough time for life to have evolved without intervention”).  And these are real, honest-to-goodness scientists who are working in a biology lab. That’s 2 out of 15 people!!

I knew the one was an ID’er – his parents are strictly pentecostal, but he’s generally clueless about things most things people would deem common knowledge. So, fair enough, he’s sheltered and hasn’t been exposed to “true” biology (despite obtaining a degree in it). At least he acknowledges evolution.

Then today, I was talking about the geocentrism guy, and happened to make an offhanded comment that he was even worse than crazy creationists, and happened to offend my coworker! The mind boggles. I would also like to point out that the rest of the people the lab are non-religious, agnostic or atheist. However, I just simply cannot understand how people who have all the access to the best information, who use evolution as part of their research can sit back and say, hm, this seems unrealistic to me. “God did it” is, as I said at the Creation Museum, utterly useless as an alternate scientific theory.

How would you go about talking to a young earth creationist who is by all other accounts your colleague and friend? Is it my duty to try and help her understand? Or should I let it be in the name of diplomacy?

Why do people have a hard time with Hitchens and Dawkins? Part 2

Part 2

An interesting collaboration occurred several years ago (September 30th, 2007). Four gentlemen gathered at one table for a conversation. The conversation was called ‘The Four Horsemen’. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, the major drivers of the “Gnu Atheist” movement, participated in this unmediated discussion/debate. For two hours of stimulating conversation, these four authors demonstrate their different approaches to accomplishing the same objective.

This conversation is a great testament against making sweeping generalizations about atheists. Atheists are almost invariably independent thinkers, and having a meeting or gathering like this has been said to be akin to herding cats. Still, the cats were herded and what a result. If you’ve not watched any of the video, I highly, highly recommend you do.

I would love to entertain a debate or discussion with people in a casual setting such as this on a frequent basis. Conversing about topics which are deemed untouchable by modern media and taboo in casual conversation is key to people’s understanding of them, and ultimately, the destruction of the taboo. To me, is important to raising awareness and fighting fear in the common populous that has been propagated by the various religious organizations for the last millennia. In the 60s, our parents (grandparents even?) decided it was okay to talk about sex. Will our gift to our children be the ability to freely discuss – and criticize – religion?

What I especially enjoy in this discussion is that all the men appear relaxed and engaged by the conversation. They are not talking down to anyone or trying to prove a point to an opposing world view, all the while having their own opinions and ideas on the topic of religion and human rights violations associated with religious practices. Richard and Christopher seemed to butt heads a few times, with Christopher having the overpowering advantage due to his passion and extensive historical, social and theological knoweldge. Richard seems to have a personal outlook on the religion topic and he tends to utilize biology more than history to refute the claims of preachers on the pulpit.

At 24 minutes into the first hour of the video, Richard talks about how people are accusing these four men of going after the easy targets (ex. congregations, worshipers, etc.) rather than the “sophisticated intellectuals and theologians”. These people don’t have to talk to easy targets; the more stimulating conversation is, obviously, between their colleagues. The Four Horsemen seem to need to speak out against religion out of moral obligation.

A point comes up about the belief that is ground breaking. The holy books are said to be the dictation to man from an omnipotent being, which is claimed infallible. Any religious person of the 3 main religions of the world have to accept this as truth, otherwise the entire idea of the institution is a fraud. Yet the faithful always state that a passage is true or a metaphor for something that is true based on the interpretation of the reader. Any rational person would see the man behind the curtain in this concept. Men have been using the concept of religion to control a populous and obtain notoriety and wealth for thousands of years, from the tribal shaman to the pope. Each practitioner of religion is equal in their knowledge that the practice they preach is false and guilty for spreading lies and bigotry as truth. If the Word is Truth, and the Word is absolute, how can there be room for interpretation?

Now rational people can and usually do see these and other claims as false. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. A completely non-scientific, but still intriguing, trend I have been noticing for years has been the peoples reaction to being confronted with new information. I have found that, in general, people are more willing to believe than to disbelieve. It is easier to accept making complacency have a greater frequency in test subjects. In fact, these data have been replicated in actual psychological studies of children, where they found that even when given all reason to believe to the contrary, the children would still believe a lie.

Body language changes dramatically based on what is happening around people. Honestly, words are not nearly necessary to communicate as a human being. The body, as is commonplace with animal communication, can say a lot. I would have loved to have observe the body language of the judge in India who ruled that astrology is a science.

An interesting note is that Christopher states does not want the world to exist without faith. And he does want the argument between religion and atheists to go away. And it is to these two points where Christopher Hitchens divides his ideas from the other three minds. He seems to enjoy the “theatre” of the argument. Richard Dawkins becomes passionate about this ideology that Christopher says. “Whether its astrology or religion or anything else, I want to live in a world where people think skeptically for themselves, look at evidence. Not because astrology is harmful. I guess it probably isn’t harmful but if you go through the world thinking that it’s ok to just believe things because you believe things, without evidence, then you’re missing so much. And that (stumble with words) its such a wonderful experience to live in the world and understand why your living in the world and understand what makes it work, understand about the real stars understand about astronomy, that its an impoverishing thing to be reduced to the pettiness of astrology.” Richard goes on to talk about the similarity of the same statement replacing “Astrology” with “Religion”.

Richard, even with his mastery of biology and science has not found the words that will once and for all convince the believers of religion that what they believe is not nearly as amazing and beautiful as the entire universe full of wonder. He is desperately trying to find the words but, like his peers, he has not been able to express his zeal for the natural, explainable world (if not soon to be explainable). I hope he lives long enough to find the particular phrase that will awaken the minds eye of fanatics to reason and evidence. Unfortunately, I think the words Reason and Evidence are profane in the religious world.

Richard Dawkins, I can say this with conviction, is responsible for my awakening to the scientific rational thinking that he is so fond of. Prior to viewing a lecture given by Richard, I was angered by religion and encouraged the dismantling of all religious institutions. After viewing the lecture, the words reason and evidence began to ring in my ears like the word of god rings in the ears of a fanatic. The difference being that those words opened my mind to the natural, where the religious fanatics ears close to the world and open to lies and evil. Even if the religious fanatic is not inherently evil, the words can hypnotize the person to commit evil on an extremely small level or on a destructive level. My mind opens only to the building of bridges and opening of doors to the wonder that exists.

That being said, Richard has, for me, discovered the words and phrase to bring out the knowledge seeking the he incites.

2cp

Why do people have a hard time with Hitchens and Dawkins? Part 1

Wanting to discuss Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, I posted a comment on the message board for Winnipeg Skeptics:

Winnipeg Skeptics Meetup Board

Meet-up group to find out exactly why science enthusiasts say negative things about these two individuals. I had some interesting comments.

The whole topic was spurred on by a comment made during the question period at a recent trip to the Winnipeg Creation Museum. (Edit: I would love to have a copy of the audio that was recorded by Creation Museum staff during this period and the question period from the group before us, Winnipeg Atheists I believe were involved in that session). I do applaud the Creation museum for allowing several groups in that day who, for all intensive purposes, are hostile to their “evidence for creation”. I hope they would welcome us back for some more discussion and they are welcome to attend any Winnipeg Skeptics event to give a talk. Ideas, no matter how unorthodox should still be discussed, if only for fun, in a safe and welcoming atmosphere.

I digress. The comment which began my train of thought on this topic was “Dawkins is a bit of an ass”. This comment was interjected into the middle of an argument against religion that creationist John Freakes began to state, by Gem Newman, founder of Winnipeg Skeptics (Don’t take offence Gem, I am just painting a picture). The interruption achieved it’s intended target, stopping the argument proposed against evolution by Mr. Freaks, in which he began evoking confrontational nature of Richard Dawkins as a defensive mechanism.

“Dawkins is an ass,” is an interesting statement and it struck a cord with me. As with all skeptical thinkers, I demand proof for definitive statements such as that. Before posting a comment on the WPMG message board I did a little research to see if this is a common feeling among evolutionists and secularist enthusiasts. I found numerous comments around the internet which stated much the same thing. Hence, I posted the comment on the message board to find out why the particular group I belong to felt this way. Although it isn’t a unanimous feeling, generally, the methods used by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to refute religion are more in your face than even secular individuals are comfortable with.

I would like to convince my reader that they should come out of their comfort zone. Starting with Christopher Hitchens, who seems to have a huge impact on religion, I will then move onto Richard Dawkins in this multipart Subspecies blog segment.

I would like to start with the signature “Hitch-slap” that allows Christopher Hitchens, during a debate, to change the minds of those who are undecided and even to convert some of those who entered the room pious and left the room humbled. His bold statements against the dictatorship that is organized religion have, time and again, shocked his viewers into disgust or applause. More often than not, it seems, applause erupts in the audience. Disgust is reserved for those in denial.

In recent times, Christopher Hitchens has softened his approach by cooling down his shock tactics, instead installing small similarities into his statements that regular people can understand and associate with. An example of which are his quiet statements made when probed at a panel while debating his brother:
Hitchens Vs. Hitchens

Another example of his relaxed tone appeared in a recent article for Slate:
Hitchens @ Slate

-on how to make a decent cup of tea. I enjoyed the quips against religion but I also enjoyed the cup of tea I made after reading this article. Seriously, this is how my Nana used to make tea and I have not had a good cup of tea since she died. I could never recreate her old English style of brewing tea simply because I did not pay attention during the process.

Christopher has repeatedly and loudly brought the atrocities committed by all religions (Yes even Buddhists) to the surface for all to examine rather than letting the dictators of theology sweep crimes under a rug. One needn’t go further than last week to find criminal acts committed by proprietors of organized religion. I will list a few stories:

Suicide bombers in Kabul
Child molestation, abuse, and confinement in Bountiful BC

These acts of criminality are glazed over by secular law, preachers of religion, and the average person. How many of us thumb over these stories from around the world and at our back door for the sports page or comics? How many people actually read these stories and not feel immediately sick for humanity? I will answer the second question first (an interesting method of answering questions used by Hitchens): Number of people is so close to zero, it’s negligible. But, this is not humanities fault. Globalization is a rather new concept and we as a civilization are still getting acquainted with the appearance of cultural differences in our living rooms. The human animal is strongly opposed and afraid of change.

The answer to the first question (drum roll): far too many people. If it is not happening in the back yard of the observer the problem is brushed off as irrelevant. It could be a factor of desensitization or ignorance. It could be a myriad of other reasons to which I am not qualified to speak on, nor do I have the data to back my point of views up. What I do observe, on countless occasions, is the power of the spoken word to break the walls in the mind of humanity. It takes a cunning debater like Christopher Hitchens to remind me that the driving force behind nearly everything that is bad in this world is religion. Second only to religion is money and/or greed. Money and/or greed are is second only to religion, you ask? It is this way because religion tends to have and covet these two concepts on top of practice of faith, while discouraging the flock to avoid these feelings and actions on pain of everlasting damnation, torture and pain. Religious proprietors, like the personification of all they deem evil, are greedy for souls to fill their bastions and coffers. While some use the space and money for noble causes, the tariffs paid to greater powers tend to be used to cause the very thing religion is said to protect against.

What Mr. Hitchens does in his debates is unearths the hidden truths that embarrass and outrage the faithful and shoved them in their face in a similar manner to a mother washing her child’s mouth out with soap after a profanity is uttered. The taste does not sit well with people who know there is something wrong but decide not to confront it. Those who are oblivious tend to be surprised, and perhaps, disgusted by the revelation that Christopher Hitchens provides for them. Those people who share his observations tend to be less interested in what he is saying and more interested in how he is saying it.

Frankly, I don’t think we (atheists, secularists, humanists, etc.) should be bringing this man down in the eyes of those who oppose his statements against religion. Christopher has nothing to do with the wicked acts committed by religious organizations. We are – forgive the cliche – shooting one of our best messengers.

I will miss Christopher if cancer takes him before his time. I hope he lives long enough to awaken the world to the unbelievable evil that is religion. I know, this may be impossible in the time he has left (whether it is one yeah or 20 more years).

On a side note, the issues in Egypt have me engaged. I feel fortunate to be around and alive when a group of people rise up, in protest, to change the way their country is governed.

2cp

Edit: I am working on embedding these videos into my blog post but it seems the feature is not working or I am doing it incorrectly. Not to mention the frustration of typing in this format where the document keeps returning to the top and I continuously have to scroll down to where I left off.

Who died and made you the king of anything?

Ok, I had to post this video on my blog for one simple reason. This is a prime example of the scientific illiterately (I had trouble spelling that word which does not bode well for me, or it’s too early and brain is still in sleep mode) that is plaguing much of the creationist movement. Not only do they pool all the sciences into one bucket and label the container “Evolution”, but they do not understand the simple concept that is time. Creationists (particularly those in the young earth category) do not comprehend the shear magnitude that is epoch of the universe existence.

Below is the video I spoke of. I hesitated to post this particular mans content because I don’t want to give him any more exposure than he deserves, which is none, but I do feel this example of ignorance is what makes these people so laughable and, to a greater extent, dangerous to the education process of the human race. People who buy into this type garbage will inevitably vote and could put undesirable people into public office. Let’s be honest here, not everyone can be a quantum physicist, but a quantum physicist can be and act like a moron outside the quantum realm. I am not saying that only creationists are idiotic (just most of them). However, this guy is not a scientist by any means nor is he intelligent enough to understand what he is talking about.

Since when is geology a sub science of Biology? He asked for an example of a mountain or rock being folded over a long period of time without breaking or being subject to water. That I must say does not exist. We do not have a sealed lab where we have a mountain under controlled conditions allowed to sit and form without outside force (erosion, pressure, life, etc.). To claim the world was as smooth as a marble before Noah’s mythical flood is preposterous. The world was not flat in the beginning. It is unreasonable to even suggest such nonsense. Mountains existed prior to life beginning on this rock. It did not take a flood to produce mountains.

It did take water, most likely in the form of glaciers, to carve and bend rock into the weird shapes that exist today. Volcanic activity (Hawaii is an example he used) also makes mountains in a short amount of time.

Let’s see what else? Gravity can suck the water out of rock down into the earth ( would like to point out that I think he thinks that the water goes down to the center of the earth). Gah? Is that the only water cycle mechanism that mountains are subject to? What about evaporation. You know that thing where water defies gravity and turns into a gas to be sucked up into our atmosphere. Evaporated water makes clouds that can be extremely entertaining for child like imagination. Neat! On a side note; Moss and lichen can eat rock and turn it into soil with the help of water but that also takes a long time.

Marble Canyon in British Columbia is a great (and short) interpretive trail which can show how water erodes mountains. (Some great pictures here: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/viaggi/canadakootenay.html) If you have not been to this place, you should go for fun. They actually show what the canyon looked like 10 years ago, hundreds of years ago to Millions of years ago as you proceed down the trail from the top.

Sara Bareilles can state my thoughts on talking with creationists more effectively than I ever could. You go gurl! Although one could exclaim the same sentiments about me and this blog, I choose the latter!

Win!

2cp