Blog Archives

Stunning Beauty

One of the most famous physicists of all time, Richard Feynman, offers his reflections. It’s a solemn, transcendent experience.

Two Different Histories of Mankind

Watch the following two summaries of human history. Which one is more likely to be true? Which one do you want to be true? Which one is more inspirational?

 

Advice From A Republican

Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China and former governor of Utah, is running for the Republican presidential nomination. He had this to say in a debate against his fellow Republicans.

…when you call to question evolution, all I’m saying is that in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science.

Of course, it wasn’t met with applause or anything, but he hits the nail right on the head. The world is quickly changing, and people are learning more and more about science. People who want to be taken seriously can’t resort to the philosophy and worldview of Ken Ham.

Know that you pay a price for profound religious ignorance. The 7th Day Adventists, the Answers in Genesis crowd, the Discovery Institute, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and all the other crazy nutters out there–you have got to get your act together and stop running from science.

The Great Demotions: Destroying Human Conceit Through Science

“The longstanding view, as summarized by the philosopher Immanuel Kant that, ‘without Man, the whole of Creation would be a mere wilderness, a thing in vain, and have no final end’ is revealed to be self-indulgent folly.”

-Carl Sagan

Why The Religious Should Give Up

If there’s fifteen minutes of conversation that captures the common religious desperation to reconcile man-made fairy tales with objective scientific truths, it is the conversation PZ Myers had last week with Muslims in Dublin.

These are people who approached PZ at first with a vomiting of philosophical bullshit, using fuzzy First Cause arguments and nonsense like “occam’s razor must be uncaused, therefore it must be eternal.” And then, after being pressed for any kind of evidence for their theistic god, the Muslims turned to pseudoscientific embryology and a very odd understanding of why mountains exist, as detailed in the video above. After the event, the same group also talked to Richard Dawkins, and explained to him that evolution can’t be true because it is a “noncomplementary paradigm” with physics.

It is quite sad to see people so hopelessly devoted to their beliefs that they’ll twist and turn meaningless garble in religious books and claim that these words are in fact scientific truths that could have only come from revelation (like from some illiterate dude in a desert, for example). PZ is right that these same tricks are used by Christian and Jewish scholars. And PZ is even more right when he notes that comparing the Qur’an or other holy books to actual science is equating crude understandings of the universe with detailed and verifiable scientific evidence.

For example, how many times have Christians come up to you and said that the Genesis account is amazing because it predicted that the Universe had a beginning? It’s quite insulting to science, really. They purposely leave out one inconvenient truth: pretty much everything else in Genesis is completely wrong. Not just troubling or hard-to-read. Just dead wrong. It’s quite sad, therefore, that there’s another manufactured scientific controversy on Christianity Today. Apparently in Christian fairy-land, they still aren’t sure whether Adam or Eve actually existed, and that’s why there’s a scientific “search” for the historical Adam and Eve.

Give us a break, Christians. Just like there is no controversy about the fact that living things evolved or that the earth revolves around the sun, there is no controversy about this question of human origins either. It’s just another religious attempt to confuse people and to make it appear like their beliefs have a possibility of being true. UChicago’s Jerry Coyne delivers the point.

Genetic data show no evidence of any human bottleneck as small as two people: there are simply too many different kinds of genes around for that to be true.  There may have been a couple of “bottlenecks” (reduced population sizes) in the history of our species, but the smallest one not involving recent colonization is a bottleneck of roughly 10,000-15,000 individuals that occurred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.  That’s as small a population as our ancestors had, and—note—it’s not two individuals.

There’s a real parallel between these manufactured Christian controversies and the “embryological” Muslims. All are so convinced that their beliefs must be true and must be rooted in reality that they’ll go to any length, however intellectually dishonest, to gain temporary credibility. And when science actually does reach its limits and says, “there’s more to be discovered,” religion steps in and tries to fill in the gaps.

But notice the pattern. Religion, after initially attacking science by flinging false controversies and pseudoscience all over the place, then hijacks the later discoveries of science and claim them as its own. They’ll never win, of course, because they’ll always be followers and pirates and copycats, not leaders. As Isaac Asimov brilliantly said, science stands alone.

Don’t tell me, then, that those clever Eastern (Celtic, African, Greek, or even Biblical) sages have spoken of something that sounds like the big bang or like endless expansion. That’s idle speculation.

Show me where those sages worked out the isotropic radio wave background, or the red-shifts in galactic spectra, which alone support those conclusions on anything more than mere assertion.

You can’t. Science stands alone!

And so this post ends with the inspirational quote above, as well as the following advice: If I were a person of faith, I would just call it “faith” and not bother with science or evidence.

Telling the Truth about Science and Religion

Thank you PZ Myers for telling it as it is. Science is, on a fundamental level, as incompatible with religion as truth is with bullshit.

He destroys the common belief that science and religion can support each other. Myers has no respect for people who merely compartmentalize their conflicting beliefs.

He agrees with me when I say that you either believe that evolution occurred as it is empirically observed–a natural process with no apparent direction and purpose–or you don’t. You don’t get to say that “Yahweh supervised it” or “Allah guided it,” or make any pseudoscientific and unfalsifiable assertion that somehow this process was directed to create homo sapiens in particular. Theistic evolution is a vulgar perversion of science.

There is to be no compromise on the part of science to accommodate the religious. Christians can pervert their religious beliefs, can change their interpretations of the Bible, can twist and change their positions in astronomy, geology, biology, medicine, etc. all they want. They can make Adam and Eve not literal people but metaphors for homo sapiens. They can say the flood was a myth. They can pervert their religion all they want to fit in with modern, secular science.

Scientists should never return the favor.

Big History

Many cultures and civilizations talk about “understanding their own history”, but there’s a common history that unites all of us.

Creationist Bingo

There are some wacky things in life that are just so amazingly fun. Snowball fights, Nerf gun wars, Apples to Apples, and now, thanks to the UChicago SSA, Creationist Bingo.

My favorite video:

The square for this was “Life can’t come from non-life,” but I was about to put it on “Simple Stupidity/Ignorance.”

Anyways, I was very inspired to find a video more awesome than Ray Comfort’s intelligently designed banana.

Silly Rabbis, Tricks are For Kids

The library of idiotic and meaningless statements uttered by self-professed holy men keeps endlessly growing. When will we stop being preached to and treated like mindless children?

The Huffington Post featured a so-called A Reasonable Argument for God’s Existence by Rabbi Jacobs. One might expect another round of toned-down religious mush similar to the arguments from what I now call the New-Age Christians. Instead, we get a pseudo-argument bordering on lunacy.

One might suppose that in the six or so decades since the discovery of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick during which researchers have been investigating the origin of life they might have come up with some pretty solid leads to explain it. The truth of the matter is that we see scientists coming up surprisingly empty-handed and that even within scientific circles, the few hypotheses they do have are shredded to ribbons by their colleagues within the scientific community.

Rabbi Jacobs wants us to think that the discovery of something means that a complete explanation for it should come from science in about sixty years. How long did it take to fully understand the atom after we first discovered it? The truth is that we STILL don’t understand everything about atoms or their origins (although we are getting closer), and that’s okay. Science does not work on a schedule; it doesn’t promise answers to really difficult questions because some man from the Huffington Post demands it. But the hardworking men and women in the field do try very very hard nonetheless.

And that’s the point. We have made so much progress on the understanding of DNA that it’s simply amazing. Just 20 years ago, many people wouldn’t have imagined how far we’ve come in sequencing not only our DNA but those of many other species, and how much closer we are getting to understanding how early life could have developed and evolved. Rabbi Jacobs, on the other hand, makes a living out of giving answers on things that he couldn’t possibly know or understand, and he attacks others for being as ignorant as he is.

There just is no evidence for it. Not one of them has the foggiest notion about how to answer life’s most fundamental question: How did life arise on our planet? The non-believer is thus faced with two choices: to accept as an article of faith that science will eventually arrive at a reasonable, naturalistic conclusion to this intellectual black box or to choose to believe in the vanishingly small odds that the astonishing complexity, intelligence and mystery of life came about as a result of chance, which of course presents its own problems:

It is not an article of faith to be open to the strong possibility that science will answer questions about life’s origins. It may entirely possible that a good explanation is far away, but the evidence is that science, again and again and again, has always pushed the frontiers of our knowledge. Not only has it done that, it has pushed back the claims of the religious and put a well-deserved check on nonsense claims and superstitions.

One of those claims is intelligent design, which Rabbi Jacobs is essentially making. When Jacobs says that the “astonishing complexity, intelligence and mystery of life came about as a result of chance,” I have no choice but to think that either he doesn’t believe in evolution (which I find unlikely) or that he has a typical but serious misconception of it (one that presupposes the driving forces of evolution are random). That’s because if we was talking about abiogenesis, he wouldn’t be referring to “intelligence” or even “complexity,” characteristics more descriptive of modern forms of life.

In short, his O’Reillian argument is this: God exists because I don’t know how shit came about.

The second trickster is Rabbi Artson, who participated in a 4-person debate with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Rabbi Wolpe.

When asked by Sam Harris about his explanation for why innocent people encounter so much random suffering in this world, Rabbi Artson gives the following response (at 35:20).

It is a Medieval mistake based on Aristotelian thought that God has to be an unmoved mover, and thereby eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. … I apologize for the way that philosophers kidnapped the tradition, but it is not in the Torah, and the concept is a nonsense concept.

[Sam Harris]: So you’re saying that God doesn’t have the power to change these things?

Yes, of course that’s what I’m saying. What God has is a different kind of power than that of the dictator. What I look to God to be is a persuasive power more comparable to a teacher, or a lover, or a parent who teaches and inspires you to be the best by seeing your potential and by giving you the potential to rise to it. But I don’t believe in a God that breaks the rules, who can intervene, and do magic.

God is a weak, powerless entity who just inspires people and can’t perform any miracles? That’s the God of Judaism and Christianity?

Of course, Christopher Hitchens wasn’t going to let this one slide (40:00)

One of the reasons why I like debating with the religious is that you never know what they are going to say next. Sam and I don’t mind being called predictable. We know what we think. We say straight up where we think we know, where we think it is not possible to know, why we don’t think there’s the supernatural, and so on. But this evening already we’ve had your suggestion that God is only really a guru, a friend when you’re in need. I mean he wouldn’t do anything like bugger around with Job to prove a point…

[applause]

If I now tell you that must mean the book wasn’t really the word of God, you would say, “who ever believed that that ever was the word of God?” Let me just tell you something. For hundreds and thousands of years, this kind of discussion would have been in most places impossible to have, or Sam and I would have been having it at the risk of our lives. Religion now comes to us in this smiling face ingratiating way because it has had to give so much ground and because we know so much more. Don’t forget the way it behaved when it was strong and when it really believed that it had God on its side.

Afterwards, Rabbi Artson remarked that he really didn’t like participating in this debate. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, but the audience really deserved a good debate, and I don’t think they got it. Hitchens and Harris clearly laid out their claims and arguments, while the other side served mush and kept talking about what they didn’t believe, all while changing the story to avoid difficult questions.

The last trickster is Rabbi Schmuley, whose debating style is as bad as his lack of substance. After all, if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, why not just yell?

Inspiration of the Day: Watch the whole Hitchens, Harris, Rabbi debate. Hitchens makes a Star Wars reference somewhere in there.

Real Education Reform

Skip to 8:20. People who think that science denial is limited only to Protestant Christianity are fooling themselves.

In America, fewer than 30% of high school science teachers really teach the theory of evolution. The majority science teachers avoid the topic.

13% of high school science teachers teach creationism.

Indeed, the religious have a lot of catching up to do. So what’s the solution? How are we going to change this?