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Facts or it didn’t happen: unhooking the bra of reality March 31, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion.
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So, you want to include Intelligent design, creationism, or some other moniker for questioning the overwhelmingly established science of evolution into our classrooms.  You also, likely, equate evolution with the origin of the universe, so you want to talk about how something must have created the universe too.  Like, for example, god.  Well, OK.  In that case, lets also include creation myths from Hindus, various Native American tribes, and (why not, it’s 2012) the Mayans? Let’s have as many challenges to evolution and cosmology as possible, if we are going there.

Or perhaps you are more concerned with the state of medical science.  Perhaps you want to have your medical school include spirituality in their training, so that future doctors will be more spiritually attuned, or something.  Well, OK.  In that case let’s not forget faith healing, acupuncture, and homeopathy.  Hell, let’s throw in some goat sacrificing as well.  If we are going to include alternative medicines, why not throw in everything, just in case someone thinks they are worthwhile, eh?

Hyperbole?

Have I gone down a slippery slope? Have I taken what should be seen as a legitimate addition of alternative points of view, in comparison with established science and skepticism, and equated them with obviously erroneous methods? Am I not taking things like spirituality, real “scientific” challenges to the Darwinian conspiracy, etc seriously? Am I merely being flippant and disrespectful?

No.

Quantities of complexity and simplicity

What is the difference between the more sophisticated and complex challenges to the scientific consensus and those which are, how should I say, less sophisticated? What is the difference between the Discovery Institute and the creationist screaming on the street corner (or next to the reason rally)?

There are real differences between these two types of challenge to science.  One is better articulated, more gpolished, and appears more professional.  The other has not been dressed up in such finery, and is obviously naked to everyone (OK, most of us).  From where I stand,  all of these sophists look naked, adorned in transcendent Imperial attire, even if to many out there the transparency of such cloth takes on a denseness and opacity to them.  Such observations become quite illuminating to complex eyes, but not so complex to need an intelligence to evolve them, such as mine.

That is, the difference between these sophisticated attempts at “skepticism” and creationist buffoonery is one of methodological degree, and certainly not a difference of quality.

For someone to show a distinction between these two, they would need to show some empirical or methodological difference between the two claims. They cannot do this.  Because there isn’t any.

No matter how well the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), or any other disingenuous attempts to undermine science dresses up their creationism, that’s all it is.  So no matter how slick the presentation, elevated the vocabulary (to make it sound sciency), or how many “credentialed” contributors they parade out (or pay large sums of money) there will only be a difference of degree between them and the whack-jobs on the street-corner yelling about the time being “nigh,” or someshit.

The reason for this is simple.  The methodologies of science, based in logic, empiricism, and skepticism generally, are unique and powerful.  Religion, faith, superstition are all powerful motivators of human behavior, but they lack that method and so they fail to predict or explain reality.  There is a fundamental methodological difference between what real science does and what is done by such think tanks as referred to above.  Places like the Discovery Institute and the ICR are not using the best methodologies, but are in fact using the same type of methodology used by the creationist you will meet on the street, in a church, or proposing legislation to allow discussion of creationism in schools.

They arenot using skepticism.

So when we respond to such trite sophistry with what may appear hyperbolic, the fact is that it is not hyperbole at all.  It is, in fact, appropriate commentary on the ridiculousness of people’s beliefs about the world; beliefs which are not warranted by the facts or the reason that binds those facts into theories which teach us about reality.

Unhooking the bra of reality

One person’s idiocy is another’s profundity.  And one person’s profundity is another’s idiocy.  The difference between the two, however, is not mere subjective opinion or preference; reality can inform the difference, and reality gives up her lovely secrets only to skeptics (when she gives them up at all).  Faith and superstition—ever the prompts of religion—being so obsessed with what lays beneath nature’s bodice, frees itself to imaginings and unverified declarations.  But it is all rhetoric and no real experience.

Real experience requires knowing how to unhook the bra of reality, a secret revealed only by the reaching of the adolescence of our species during our philosophical and scientific development and matured in the fires of the Enlightenment with the advent of the scientific method.  Many an embarrassed and inexperienced person claims to have breached such depths, claiming to have seen this or that, done that or this, and have really only masturbated such things while those of us truly entered into mysteries of the plain world in our face, seen with skeptical eyes, know the beauty of reality’s bosom.

Or, to put the analogy more succinctly; pics or it didn’t happen, you keepers of faith and superstition!

The Origin of Species, Ray Comfort, and profound ignorance November 18, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Ah, dishonesty!

The day has come.  We in the atheist and scientific communities have been waiting for it with mild amusement or annoyance.  And to our surprise it came a day early.  We almost missed it as a result.  But I didn’t.

For those of you who were not aware, Ray Comfort, from Living Waters and Way of the Master has recently been talking about passing out free copies of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.  This pivotal book has been all the rage since it was first published in 1859, and it’s impact on science, religion, and culture cannot be denied.  This is a book that must be read by a person if they are to consider themselves a well-rounded, educated, and informed person in today’s culture.  One should at very least be familiar with what Darwin’s essential argument is, what evidence exists to back it up, and what science says about evolution today.

For that, here’s a few good places to start and to keep an eye on:

Why Evolution is True (WEIT)

PBS

Berkeley

But Ray Comfort is not a fan of evolution.  He rejects it and supports intelligent design, so why is Ray Comfort giving away this special 150th Anniversary Edition, precisely?

Well, first a bit about Ray Comfort.  He and his former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron have been doing ministry about Jesus for some time now.  You may remember the debate that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron had with my friend Brian Sapient and the Rational Response Squad.  If you have not seen this debate, I’ll supply a link here.

It was this debate where the infamous crocoduck came from.  This has supplied many chuckles and full belly-laughs from sciency people ever since.  (I want a shirt with the crocoduck on it, btw, so I’ll accept gifts of this sort).

This is an image created by Ray Comfort to try and make the point that transitional fossils do not exist, and that if they did this is the type of thing one would expect to find.  The ignorance contained here is astounding.  I don’t even feel compelled to respond, because it has been done elsewhere with many more lulz attached.

But this is not the full act that these clowns have.  If you have not heard their routine, it is amusing.  Here’s an example that includes some rebuttal:

Now, the banana aside (which Ray Comfort admitted was a bad argument), this is utter tripe.  It is clear that Comfort, Cameron, and the others that are on board with this nonsense do not accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution, so why are they giving away copies of The Origin of Species? Well, it has a lot to do with the 50 page introduction that Ray Comfort includes in this ‘special’ edition.

Well, putting aside some obvious problems with the introduction, this is obviously an attempt to appear as if the creationist loons, like Comfort, have actually considered the evidence and are just coming up with another interpretation.  They simply see the evidence lacking, having studied the subject, and are confident to actually give people copies of this book.

But the fact is that evolution is not derived from the Origin like gospel.  It is derived from Darwin’s arguments, evidence, and observations and then is confirmed by all of the work in biology since.  That is, a hundred and fifty years of research, testing, DNA evidence, fossils, and other information  supports what Darwin wrote and expands on it in ways Darwin could not have predicted because he did not know about DNA or genetics, let alone the thousands of fossils we have uncovered that speak unequivocally for evolution by natural selection.

So, the deal was Comfort and his cronies were to hand out copies of the book all over the country, on college campuses, on November 19th, 2009.  The atheist and science blogosphere was all a-twitter about it and has been anticipating this.  Various responses, reactions, and condemnations have surfaced in various places with varying degrees of tone.  And so what happened when I got to my daily business today, one day before the planned give-away? That’s right folks, Comfort has tried to minimize the planned reactions by science enthusiasts and atheists by jumping the gun and doing it early.

But I managed to get out of the house and find a couple of friendly gentlemen who were passing out the books today anyway.  They were having some conversations with students, proselytizing the Christian message similar to Ray Comfort’s, and I took a copy and talked with them about my concerns for a little while.   And what did I find? Ignorance.

In my conversation with these two gentlemen, I found that not only were these two men ignorant of science, it’s methods, and the evidence for evolution, they displayed no interest in learning about science.  One of them actually said that he was not interested in science.  But he did say that he was interested in the truth.  And while he didn’t understand the basics of rational thinking, epistemology, or even what natural selection was, he maintained that he was interested in the truth.

And what is the truth? Jesus is the truth.  This was not merely claimed as a belief, but as knowledge, knowledge that was not doubted even a little.

Frustrating.  How can a person claim to be interested in the truth and not have any interest in the scientific method–the best method for determining how the world works–and have not even surface understanding of epistemology? his is an indefensible position.  It is irrational, illogical, and not worthy of the respect that some faitheists and moderate religionists say that these beliefs deserve. Their certainty in their beliefs is staggering considering they are not interested in evidence.  What’s worse is that they accused me of being absolutely certain that god does not exist and that evolution is true.  When I told them that neither was true and that I accept evolution only because of the overwhelming evidence for it.

I am a skeptic.  These people, Comfort included, are so removed from skepticism that they will not admit that they might be wrong.  They cannot even see that they don’t actually have evidence, only personal interpretations of experiences which people of other religions claim with equal authority.  I cannot respect Ray Comfort’s beliefs, his certainty, or the certainty of those who believe such absurd things.  And for them to try and pull a stunt like this,by trying to look like they are educated in the science behind evolution when they are not, is dishonest at very least.

“All you need is eyes that can see and a brain that works” is what Ray Comfort says quite often.  But it is clear, from all I have seen of his work, that he might have poor vision and a brain that works only just enough to sound like he’s saying something sensible to people who don’t see through his idiocy.

I’m glad I have a copy of this fine book to put on my shelf, but from what I have already seen, there is nothing in the introduction that is worth keeping.

Darwin Day February 15, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I just returned from the University of Pennsylvania Museum. There were some games, free cake, skulls, and even a couple of live specimen to gawk at but the largest draw was the teach-in, where a number of scientists talked about Darwin’s life, geological time, dinosaurs (rawr!), etc.

But what struck me the most was the human evolution exhibit that was not specific to the event, but I had not previously seen. What stood out for me was the direct approach that it took. As you walk in, there is a panel on the wall that has some description of apes, and then it simply said “you are an ape” (or something very similar). This was interesting to me because knowing that there is a significant percentage of the US population that would be completely insulted at this proposition, yet it is overwhelmingly supported by the facts. It is nice to see it spelled out so unambiguously.

I found myself trying to imagine myself in the mind of a creationist walking through this museum (let’s assume they were kidnapped, tied up, placed in a bag, thrown in a white van then driven there and forced to walk through it to escape) and seeing the words and cast bones and skulls on the wall. I simply cannot figure out what is going on in the minds of people who deny that evolution is a fact when the theory of evolution is supported as well as any other theory–say gravity.

I think what it comes down to, for most people, is mere ignorance of the nature of the theory as well as the evidence that supports it. The fact that so many charlatans exist to keep “goddidit” alive doesn’t help this either. Fear is a contributing factor, I would guess, but nobody should be surprised to find ignorance and fear in the same explanation.

But it was good to see that so many people attended. It was good to see children interested in the exhibits and being genuinely excited to be there, and not merely dragged by parents who are at least trying. At least there is that.

Happy (belated) 200th birthday Charlie Darwin!