Monday, May 2, 2016

Explaining the Unexplained by Invoking the Inexplicable

Back a few years ago I defined Intelligent Design (ID) as: "It is an attempt to explain the unexplained by invoking the inexplicable. " By the way where I got inspiration for this line was an old joke defining Physics as "explaining the unexplainable by observing the unobservable."  I did this back in 2007 after trying to learn something about ID.  I was wondering now that I am coming up on a decade of this Blog did my definition change at all.  I should probably wait until next year and a 'Decade of Blogging' comes to a close, but you know me, I can't wait once a thought starts percolating.

Actually what started this idea was looking at the stats for my blog and realized someone was reading through many of my old posts.  After months and even years of not showing up in the stats, nearly all my 2007 posts were hit at least once, several a few times.  So it caused me to go back and take a look some and this two of 'What is Science' and 'What is Intelligent Design' caught my eye.  It's strangely interesting to go back 9 years and see what I wrote and also consider if my thinking about the subject had changed.

So looking again at What is ID, I did create my own definition which differs considerably from the 'official' definition from the Discovery Institute (DI), but their definition has changed as well.  We discussed it back in 2010 in "Surprise! The definition of ID has 'evolved'", but my current question is has my definition of ID changed.  Their definition is subject to change whenever they, the Discovery Institute (DI), seem to feel like it.  Over the years, they constantly find issue with anyone whenever they discuss ID, especially when anyone tries to pin down ID in any way.  They seem to prefer a more fluid explanation.

Let's break it down the way I define it, 'An Attempt to Explain', why did I call it an 'attempt'? My thinking, back then, was that folks like the DI were trying to explain things and trying to explain things in a way that fit their religious beliefs. Yes, I know they will argue about the influence of their religious beliefs, but never forget their guiding document 'The Wedge Strategy' document, which says [I added the little underlining]:

"describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and "reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." (Wikipedia:  Wedge Strategy)
Yes, that document, when you consider that, their protests of religious indifference is nothing more than a tactic, a way of trying to hide their religious motivations.  I've worded it a bit differently before as 'lying for Jesus'.  They tell one story 'officially', but when talking to the already converted, they tell a very different tale about their 'Designer'.

So . . an attempt certainly fits, but that leads to have they succeeded in explaining anything?  Has there been a single scientific breakthrough that can be traced back to the DI's Intelligent Design pseudo-scientific theory?  I believe if there had been then two things would have happened.  First they would have been crowing from the rooftops . . . step outside and listen for a minute?  Any crowing?  I haven't heard them either.  The second thing would that they never would have started posting about intelligent design . . . remember there is a difference between the act of intelligently designing something and the Intelligent Design spouted by the DI.  But how many posts have they made confusing the two?  "Intelligent Design vs intelligent design" and "Another example of Intelligent Design in action" are discussions on that.

So ID is still 'an attempt to explain', but why did I use the next word 'unexplained', as opposed to the idea of 'unexplainable', like my physics example used 'unobservable'?  Here is an area where I disagree wholeheartedly with the DI and it's also where they get into trouble with the whole 'God-in-the-Gaps' argument.  First of all, is anything really unexplainable?  Is there anything that we will never have a viable, working, and usable explanation?  I don't believe so.  Go back 50 years and you will find a list of items people deemed unexplained and loved to make claimed of being unexplainable.   Go back further and the unexplained/unexplainable list gets longer with each passing year.  However, don't we now have many perfectly acceptable and usable explanations for many of the things once deemed 'unexplainable'?  There are always naysayers that tell us we will never understand this or that . . . and over time there are scientists who explain this or that!  So I don't think there is anything unexplainable, only things that may be very hard to explain -- at least based on our current state of knowledge.  But always remember that the state of our knowledge is always changing, as is our explanations.

So look at the DI, they either claim the actions of a Deity (Intelligent Designer) and justify it by pointing to things they we don't have fairly complete explanations, or they argue against our explanations with spurious claims.  Two examples, Micheal Behe and the Odds Argument.  Behe, in his book "Darwin's Black Box" listed a number of items as 'irreducibly complex'.  Blood clotting factor and the immune system were a couple of his examples.  Yet when faced with examples of the continuing research in those areas, he claimed that the newer research wasn't enough.  He hadn't even bothered to look at it, he just kept to his opinion, an unsupported opinion I might add, that evolution couldn't have done it, but that it required a 'Designer'.  He reminds me of an Ancient Greek defending his 'knowledge' of the Sun being a burning chariot the God Apollo rides across the sky.  Behe's 'work' is an example of the God-of-the-Gaps argument, and other logical fallacies.

The Odds Argument is another old-y and quite moldy.  How many different ways have we heard how the odds of evolution resulting in . . . anything . . . is too incredibly long to accept.  Tornado in a junkyard and such.  Yet, has anyone actually calculated those odds in a way that makes any sense?  Nope, they cite huge numbers yet have never supported them.  Has Wild Bill Dembski's 'Design Inference/Filter' gotten any useful results yet?  Not in the least.  The whole 'Information' argument is predicated on the odds argument as well.  What I find interesting is that the Odds and Information arguments do not actually support ID, but are nothing but attempt to cast shadows on Evolutionary theory.  The assumption seems to be is that if they can push Evolution aside, the only game left in town will be their religious beliefs.  Look at their own definition of ID:
"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." (Discovery Institute: Definition of Intelligent Design)
Do you see anything in there that is an actual definition?  No, what you see is an alternative opinion, and one that can only apply if natural explanations fail.  Have they failed?  Not in the least.  Are they perfect?  No, but remember that we are always learning new things and so far we haven't reached a point where actual science fails.  I know, the DI would like us to think it has, but the reality it has not.

Scientific theories don't 'hold' or offer whishy-washy terms like 'best explained' without one hell of a lot of supporting information.  Where is their supporting information?  There isn't any.  They've been looking for over 20 years . . . well the modern ID Movement has been at it since the mid 1990's.  Other forms of Creationists have been at it even longer and not once has their religious belief set offered a viable explanation of any sort of natural phenomena.  The Ancient Greeks, Romans, Norse, and Egyptians, to name a few, formed their own religious beliefs as explanations.  What makes the DI and other Creationists any different?  Honesty says they are not. What there is, in their definition, isn't an actual usable scientific theory, but an expression of their belief system.

So how does the DI resolve any and all issues?  Push hard enough and eventually you reach an impasse, the invocation of a Deity.  Oh they usually call it an 'Intelligent Designer', at least officially and in print.  But often when preaching to the already converted, they wink and remind their supporters that the 'designer' is the Christian God. But that is where their arguments always end, with the actions of a 'Being' that basically requires you to suspend disbelief.  No one has quantified any of those actions, but the DI wants us to insert their religious beliefs into any explanation.  I want to why why we need to do that?

Have you ever heard some old joke that goes something like this.  You are a bus driver and at your first stop 5 people get on.  At your second stop 2 people get off and 4 people get on.  No one gets off at your third stop, but 3 people get on.   . . . the joke goes on and eventually the final question gets asked . . . "What is the name of the bus driver".  Of course the idea is to confuse you with tracking all the math of who is getting on and off in anticipation of a question more a long the lines of "how many people are currently on the bus?"  You lose track of the simple idea that you are the bus driver.  So all that ons and offs were nothing more than a distraction.

So what do you get when you take a natural process and insert the actions of a Deity/Designer into the process? It makes the process more complicated, but even worse, it makes the process impossible to explain.  How can you account for the actions of a deity?  The reality is you cannot.  Things work not because of the wishes of a deity.  Although you might pray a great deal when you run out of gas on a long stretch of West Texas highway without a light in sight, it's not prayer that will get your car in motion again, but gasoline!

My definition is pretty much just a re-statement.of their own.  They are trying to explain 'certain features of the universe and living things' by invoking a religious belief, an intelligent cause.  They target their belief set at one part of the actual scientific theory of evolution, natural selection.  But they offer nothing in way of actual explanation in what their 'designer' is or how it did whatever they think it did.  Hence 'explaining the unexplained by invoking the inexplicable'.

So in the 20+ years this particular stripe of Creationists have been marketing their belief set and trying to replace actual science with it.  Yet they haven't had much success mainly because their 'theory' offers no explanatory power.  No one has used it to advance our knowledge, no one has used it to offer a viable explanation of any observed phenomena.  They only thing they, and others, have used the 'theory' of ID for is politicking to have their religious beliefs injected into the science curricula.

Yes, Explaining the Unexplained by Invoking the Inexplicable is still an excellent way of looking at Intelligent Design, if I do say so myself!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How about an Example of Creationist Obfuscation

One of my Google Alerts pointed me to this article on the Christian Today website: "No evolution? Ancient lizards preserved in amber support Creationism, say Christian scientists"  The article quotes a couple of Creationist mainstays, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and the Answers In Genesis (AiG). Here's a couple of quotes from the article, although you probably don't need them.

"Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research said the discovery of these ancient lizards clearly debunks the theory of evolution, since they did not evolve at all for 99 million years."
"Supporting Thomas' assertions, Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell of Answers in Genesis pointed out that these newly discovered reptile species completely cannot be explained by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.  'There is no evidence for upward evolution through a transitional form in this lizard's amber tomb—just evidence for the sort of variation that ordinarily occurs within the created kinds of animals God made,' Mitchell said."

Of course, me being me wasn't going to take their word for it.  So I Googled "Lizards in Amber" and came across a Smithsonian article, "Pint-Sized Lizards Trapped in Amber Give Clues to Life 100 Million Years Ago".  Guess what?  The Smithsonian article says things quite a bit different than the Creationists.  Here is the best part:
"The set includes creatures similar to modern-day geckos and chameleons, as well as a range of species that sport a mash-up of features from both ancient and modern reptile relatives, according to the study published Friday in Science Advances. These animals help fill in the patchy evolutionary history of pint-sized lizards."
While the Creationists say that no evolution occurred, the Smithsonian article disagrees and points out several examples, particularly the . . . and I am going to use this term because I know how much it annoys Creationists . . . particular the Transitional Forms mentioned, although I am sure the Creationists simply neglected to mention the "species that sport a mash-up of features from both ancient and modern reptile relatives" in their article.  What AiG's Mitchell did say was:
"'There is no evidence for upward evolution through a transitional form in this lizard's amber tomb—just evidence for the sort of variation that ordinarily occurs within the created kinds of animals God made,' Mitchell said."
So, according to ICR there was no evolution, and according to AiG there was 'variation', just no transitional forms.  How did they come to those conclusions?  Oh wait . . . I keep forgetting.  They already have their conclusion.  They have to 'explain' as new evidence is uncovered how it absolutely has to fit into their already predetermined conclusion.  Here is a quote from AiG's Statement of Faith which demonstrates that point, in case you thought actual evidence might change their minds:
"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. "
I do have to wonder if they even bothered to read the actual study.  On last quote form the Smithsonian article:
"The fossils also help sort out when many of the modern reptile traits appeared. The tiny chameleon-like fossil shows early development of the lizards’ ballistic tongues—evidenced by the presence of a large bone that supports the modern chameleon’s sticky weapon, says Stanley. But the fossil did not have the specialized claw-like fused toes modern chameleons use to hang onto branches. Similarly, one of the gecko relatives has preserved toe pads with the modern designs already present."
Certainly contradicts the Creationist claims of no evolution and nothing but 'variation'.  Just in case you didn't catch it, the whole 'variation' argument is nothing more than a restatement of the whole micro-macro evolution nonsense that has yet to gain any actual traction with real scientists.  We've discussed it multiple times, including "Macro - Micro Evolution" and "Micro-Macro re-dux".  But you know it won't matter to most Creationists, especially hard-core ones like ICR and AiG.  They really need to stop looking at everything through their Biblically-colored glasses.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kentucky, Why Do You Put Up with This?

Caught this one from over on The Panda's Thumb blog, "The Ark Park is hiring".  You probably know the story.  Little kennie ham formed a for-profit business to develop his version of a Noah's Ark, he called it "Ark Encounters", I call it the ark park.  Well, the reason he formed this for-profit company was to take advantage of the taxpayers of Kentucky and get some level of financial support from them to promote his ministry . . . which violates the US and Kentucky Constitution. If you doubt that it's going to be a ministry, here's a quote from kennie himself:


Here is an image from the site where kennie originally posted ark park job openings:
 The pertinent part is that first paragraph, which might be a bit hard to read, it says (I underlined the interesting phrase):
"Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry. Our employees work together as a team to serve each other to produce the best solutions for our design requirements. Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost."

Along the way he promised that the Ark Park would be complying with all State and Federal laws for hiring, which include no discrimination based on religion.  How many actually believed him?  Anyone? . . .Bueller . . .Bueller?  Here is a quote from his own blog:
"The Ark Encounter has confirmed over and over to the state and media that it will carefully adhere to all applicable federal and state laws in hiring"
That fiction didn't last long.  Back in 2011 I blogged "Kentuckians, kennie ham is making a mockery of you!" describing the blatant religious discrimination that kennie was requiring of his Ark Park employees.  The State of Kentucky tried to do something about it, but just recently a judge sided with kennie.  I don't think Kentucky has given up, they are delaying the improvements for a nearby Interstate exit that would have made it easier for people to flock to the park.  But I don't think any politician is going to really take action, I think they are too afraid of the religious communities in their State -- which I find funny because most Christian Denominations do not agree with little kennie's narrow viewpoint.  But then politicians don't really care as long as they can pander for votes.

Do I sound cynical?  You bet!  You can read more about it at Panda's Thumb and you can also read this article, "Noah's Ark job float your boat? Then you must be Christian".  I really enjoyed this comment:
"Ham said the statement signed by future ark employees won't distinguish between Christian denominations."
So let's re-cap.  In order to get access to taxpayer funds, little kennie stated he would comply with non-discriminatory hiring practices.  He reneged on that!  Now, it sounds like he's softening the blow by saying his discriminatory practices will only target non-Christians, that his practices won't distinguish between the multitude of Christian Denominations.

A simple question, does anyone actually believe that?  Check out the first paragraph of Ham's Statement of Faith.
"In order to preserve the function and integrity of the ministry in its mission to proclaim the absolute truth and authority of Scripture and to provide a biblical role model to our employees, and to the Church, the community, and society at large, it is imperative that all persons employed by the ministry in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to our Statement of Faith, to include the statement on marriage and sexuality, and conduct themselves accordingly."
Does this really looking like it can encompass all of Christianity?  Let's not forget that most Christians denominations disagree with Ham and his narrow version of Christianity.  Here is another interesting quote from an AiG article "So You’re a Christian—Really?"
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
You know, that describes every gay Christian I know!  Somehow, I can't picture them getting accepted for a job at hammie's ark park.  Nope, just can't picture it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Quote-mining Revisited, AKA the Discovery Institute is At It Again

The Sensuous Curmudgeon, whose Blog I read on a regular basis pointed out a little quote-mining, a topic I haven't mentioned on here in a while. To refresh, Quote-Mining is a disreputable tactic of taking the words someone said and using them in context different from the intention of the source. We've talked about it many times, "DI Mouthpiece and Quote-mining", "Expelled: and Quote Mining", and "More on Quote Mining" are a few examples.


Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, quote mine is this one:
Ben Stein quoted Charles Darwin:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Old Bennie made it sound like Darwin was supporting and even encouraging Eugenics, but when you look at the actual quote, not just the parts Bennie quote-mined, you get an entirely different context.  To make it easy, I bolded the parts Bennie used: 

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
As you can see, the appropriate context, including the entire quote and not just the pieces you can string together to change the meaning, shows something very different than what Bennie claimed Darwin said.

Well, this next example, from SC, isn't quite as bad, or nearly as lengthy, but it does show you a good example of how Creationists like to twist things around.  In this post from SC, "Discoveroids Adopt a Ken Ham Doctrine" you can read the details for yourself.  But the bottom line is DI pseudo-historian Richard Weikart takes part of a quote from Richard Dawkins and completely misrepresents what Dawkins said!  Weikart claims that Dawkins said:
"What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question."
 Dawkins did say those words, the quote-mining comes in because Weikart failed to place Dawkins words within the context of the actual discussion.  It wasn't a discussion about Hitler's atrocities, but a discussion on the shifting of moralities.  Here is Dawkins comment in context:
“What defines your morality?” [The question put to Dawkins]
There was an extended pause as Dawkins considered the question carefully. “Moral philosophic reasoning and a shifting zeitgeist.” He looked off and then continued. “We live in a society in which, nowadays, slavery is abominated, women are respected, children can’t be abused — all of which is different from previous centuries.”

[Follow-up question]“As we speak of this shifting zeitgeist, how are we to determine who’s right? If we do not acknowledge some sort of external [standard], what is to prevent us from saying that the Muslim [extremists] aren’t right?”

“Yes, absolutely fascinating.” His response was immediate. “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”
SC's comment here shows why this is nothing more than another quote-mine: 
"That’s all there is on the subject. Did Dawkins say that he, personally, had difficulty deciding that Hitler was wrong? No, he obviously didn’t, but that’s what Weikart wants us to believe."
One last current example, something I read today, it's also from the Discovery Institute, 'Now It's Bill Nye the "Jailing Science Skeptics as War Criminals" Guy'.  Since the conversation is about quote-mining, I bet you are guessing that the DI is misrepresenting what Bill Nye actually said.  You would be correct.

What Bill was talking about was not all climate change deniers, but those who are denying climate change for the purposes of making a profit.  The DI forgot to mention another analogy Bill said:
"Was it appropriate to jail people from the cigarette industry who insisted that this addictive product was not addictive and so on? And you think about in these cases — for me as a taxpayer and voter — the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen. So I can see where people are very concerned about this and are pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussion like this.”

[They] are leaving the world worse than they found it because they are keeping us from getting to work. They are holding us back.” (Source)
 You see what I mean.  Bill Nye isn't considering jail time for all climate change deniers, he is thinking that the possibilities exists for people who are denying climate change in order to profit by it!  At the same time, these deniers are preventing us from moving ahead and dealing with the problem! If it was criminal for the tobacco industry to deny the dangers of tobacco for decades . . . and earning millions at the same time . . . shouldn't people who are denying climate change AND profiting from it to the tune of millions and billions be held responsible?

I will repeat this again.  You cannot trust anything that comes out of the DI because while you know they are putting their own spin on everything, you cannot be sure that haven't also 'adjusted' any quotes or references in order to make other people's words mean something totally different than what was actually intended.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another Cartoon, Another Shot to the Heart of the Discovery Institute

What a week for Cartoons!  First there was Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and then Non-Sequitur.  Today I caught a new Jesus and Mo that had me thinking about the Discovery Institute.  Here it is, for your enjoyment:

As soon as I read it, I was reminded about a post from several years back, "So there is nothing religious about ID? Part V". It's part of a common theme about catching the Discovery Institute doing something purely religious while constantly trying to sell us on the idea that their pet version of Creationism, Intelligent Design, is not religious.  This particular post concerned a conference that was announced on their own site . . . yea, you know the one, Evolution 'News' and Views.  The title of the post was "Darwin v. Design Conference Coming to Oklahoma to Address Debate Over Science and God"

The reason this cartoon reminded me so much of that meeting was the list of speakers.  The article was written by Dr. John G. West, who calls the speakers "four national experts ": Michael Behe, Jay Richards, Casey Luskin, and West himself. These are not 4 national experts on the subject of Science and God, they are 4 fellows from the Discovery Institute.  Now do you see the parallels to the cartoon?  The deck is certainly stacked!


Note to Jesus and Mo:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.

Monday, April 11, 2016

This Certainly Would Explain a lot!

So shortly after posting the SMBC post (Why Teaching Biology may be Harder than it Needs to be!), I added it to my comics list and after dinner I open up my comics list and read this gem from Non-Sequitur:



What a day for comic strips!  I've posted from Non-Sequitur before.  They seem to drive right to the heart of an issue, as they certainly did here.  I do wonder if someone won't renounce their religious beliefs, would they be let in?  Imagine little kennie ham showing up and seeing that sign!  I would have to think he would go sulk somewhere and then try and start his own Heaven, one where he can exclude just about everyone else and declare himself as a deity.  After all, he's pretty much established his own religion there in Kentucky, hasn't he? 

It does remind me of an old joke.  "A man dies and goes to Heaven.  After gaining entrance he's being shown around and everywhere he sees Jews working with Muslims, Pentecostals playing with Lutherans, Buddhists, and Methodists.  He was amazed until he gets to one area where he find a tall brick wall.  He asks his guide, "What's with the wall?"  His guide says, "Shhhhh!  That's where the Evangelicals are, they like to think they are the only ones here."

Note to Non-Sequitur:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.

Why Teaching Biology may be Harder than it Needs to be!

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is an online comic strip that I think I don't look at nearly often enough.  To the right is an old one that was recently passed to me.  It was too good not to pass on.  Have you run into someone so entrenched in their position, nothing in the way of logic or evidence can possibly dissuade them?  I know I have!

It does illustrate that it can be hard to get some points across, particularly when the person you are talking with has been indoctrinated in their view that evidence gets summarily dismissed.  I do enjoy, as odd as it might sound, driving believers to the point where they have to invoke their deity to keep their belief set in play.  Check out panel 4: "Put here by Satan to fool non-believers".

Funny, I have heard two versions of that.  On the one hand it was placed by Satan to fool folks, however more often I have heard the evidence was placed by God to test people's faith.  The end result is the same, the believer denies the evidence.  But sometimes I want to put two of them in the same room and let them duke it out to determine who 'planted' the evidence.  It always amazes me the lengths people will go to to maintain their delusions!

It's not just theists, but people who believe in other supernatural foolishness, homeopathy, climate-change deniers, and -- of course -- the whole anti-vaccination movement.  Evidence is only meaningful if it can be twisted to support their entrenched position!

Hopefully there isn't an actual 'Creation History Foundation', but you never know.  How often have we spoken about the Discovery Institute re-writing history? Think about how their pseudo-historian Michael Flannery, for example, has been telling us how Darwin is responsible for racism and Hitler -- regardless of the fact . . . and I do mean fact . . . because Hitler claimed to have been given a divine inspiration!

While many Christians hear that and get upset, claiming that Hitler wasn’t a Christian that he just used the Bible as an excuse to justify and rationalize his actions. I agree! But then why does the DI insist that Darwin’s work caused the Nazi atrocities? Sounds a little self-serving and more than a little dishonest. Here is a something from Main Kampf just to prove my point:
" . . . [Jews] very existence is an incarnate denial of the beauty of God's image in His creation." (http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt)
History re-writes abound, things like the whole 'The US was established as a Christian Nation' to the DI re-baptizing people who are safely dead as 'Intelligent Design' supporters.  I commented on that a few years back in "Social Studies next on the firing line?" and Laurie Lebo had an article in 2011: "Fundamentalist-led Texas History Standards get 'D' from Conservative Think Tank."  There she reports that:
"Texas’ new standards are evangelical-led revisionist history"
So while there may not (yet) be a 'Creation History Foundation', one may come to pass.  I will be pretty confident that it will have as much to do with history as the DI has to do with science and it will probably be based in Texas . . . sorry Texas!

I hope that you enjoy SMBC as much as I do, and as much as I plan to do on a more regular basis.  I do have a link to a short list of comics I do read daily.  That list includes XKCD, Dilbert, and Jesus and Mo.  I will be adding SMBC to that list.

Note to SMBC:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another Discovery Institute Poll, how did we ever live without them!

Recently the Discovery Institute (DI) has been playing with a new way to make their pronouncements to the world, polling. We discussed this in "A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!" and "Another poll from the Discovery Institute, oh boy, oh boy!"  If you recall the bottom line of polling like this is to ask questions in a 'certain' way and then slant your various announcements to try and justify your positions based on these polls.


Well, they are doing it again only this time things look even fuzzier.  "New Poll Reveals Evolution's Corrosive Impact on Beliefs about Human Uniqueness"  They don't release the actual poll data, just their own spin on the poll.  Now since I, and anyone with a functioning brain, do not trust anything the DI says, that does make it a little hard to respond.   Apparently only three questions were asked:
  • "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."
  • "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."
  • "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."
I'm not terribly concerned with the results, since the DI would only release things that, they contend, support their ideas.  But take a look at the statements.  Talk about misleading!

First a brief discussion on 'human uniqueness', or as it is also known Anthropocentrism, homocentricism, human exceptionalism, or human supremacism.  We like to think ourselves to be special, in some fashion.  This is usually a cultural 'ism' rather than factual.  In many ways humans are unique, but when you examine any other species on this planet you can find things unique about them as well.  I've said before humans like to think we are somehow the pinnacle of development, but put one of us in the room with a hungry tiger and somehow telling the tiger that we are special isn't going to be much help.

So, as a cultural thing, it's nothing more than a belief that we like to see ourselves as somehow above the rest of the organisms on this planet.  Is that true?  Maybe!  In many ways we have certainly had more of an impact on Earth than any other single species.  We harness and use other organisms in ways few others can emulate.  But when it all boils down, we are talking a philosophy rather than a scientific viewpoint.  We even create religions to help us justify our perceived superiority.  Science can tell us what makes us different from other species, but does that automatically mean superior? Here is a conclusion about it that makes the most sense to me (I added the underlining)
"The 2012 documentary The Superior Human? systematically analyzes anthropocentrism and concludes that value is fundamentally an opinion, and since life forms naturally value their own traits, most humans are misled to believe that they are actually more valuable than other species. This natural bias, according to the film, combined with a received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans cause anthropocentrism to remain in society."(Wikipedia: Anthropocentrism)
So, now back to the polls statements.  The first one: "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."  Before taking exception, look at the wording: "Evolution shows . . .".  If you understand evolutionary theory you know that this is not quite a true statement.  There is nothing in evolutionary theory that supports human uniqueness. . . because evolutionary theory doesn't address the issue!  Evolution doesn't show anything concerning importance.  It matters not where humans, or any organism, reside on some sort of metaphysical hierarchy, evolution still happens whether you think you are at the top or bottom.  Organisms still continue to evolve. Evolutionary theory doesn't address many things, but Creationists constantly blame many things on Evolution that are not addressed in the theory, such as Abiogenesis and Racism.

How about the second statement "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."  This one is slightly truer!  But it's not Evolution that shows us this, but a host of sciences that show the similarities of humans to other organisms.  Evolution explains why we are so similar, but it's things like comparative anatomy and genetics that demonstrate the differences and similarities.  Whether you want to admit it or not, we are not very different from other animals.  We all have hearts, lungs, nervous systems, circulatory systems, brains . . . the list of similarities is tremendous.  However the DI wants this to be a negative for some reason as you can see from a partial quote from their press release about the 'survey':
" . . . leading scientists and other thinkers have insisted that human beings are just another animal . . ."
Note how they insert the word 'just'.  Is this true?  No!  Leading scientists have said that humans beings are animals, mammals to be more specific.  Does the DI refute this?  No because they know they cannot.  They don't like it, so they use the term 'just'.  I've said this is nothing more than taking a piece of information and turning it into a pejorative.

Think about the phrase 'Catherine is a woman'.  Nice simple and factual.  What you can gain from this sentence is that Catherine . . . a name I picked out of thin air . . . is female and one past the age where you might typically refer to her as a 'girl'.  Now, let's add in the word 'just', as in 'Catherine is just a woman'.  Do you get a very different meaning now?  Of course you do!  Now it's being said to present a woman in a negative light, usually revealing the speaker's prejudices.  That's what the DI did here.  In the survey they say one thing, but in the comments, they twist it to cast it negatively. Humans are animals in every sense of the word, scientists do not say 'just' animals -- that's just (pun intended) the DI's spin.

Now for the third comment: "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."  Like the others, this is a mix of truth and lies.  Have moral beliefs evolved?  Most certainly!    If you care to, read the Christian Bible and compare the morality of that time to modern times.  Morality has evolved, changed, and not just over time, but have also changed from one place to another.  Look at the moral beliefs in Saudi Arabia as compared to Japan or the United States.  Morality has changed, certainly.  But the real question is why did morals change?  Is it survival or something else?  We could spend decades debating this question, but look what the DI does to it.  They try and tie it to survival of the fittest . . . which is not even how biologists describe evolution.  Here is the partial quote:
" . . .morality evolves based on survival of the fittest . . ."
'Survival of the Fittest' is an archaic way of describing Evolution and one long disused by biologists because it doesn't fit Natural Selection well.  Evolution is not about individual survival but differentiating reproductive success rates.  Here, let me explain it a little better.  Suppose a trait offered an organism a reproductive or survival advantage.  All that means in evolution is that in subsequent generations that trait will become more prevalent in the population.  It doesn't mean organisms without that trait will die off, just that those organisms without that trait will become less numerous within the population.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia about how Creationists . . . and yes the DI are Creationists . . . like to use the phrase 'survival of the fittest':
"Critics of theories of evolution have argued that "survival of the fittest" provides a justification for behavior that undermines moral standards by letting the strong set standards of justice to the detriment of the weak.  However, any use of evolutionary descriptions to set moral standards would be a naturalistic fallacy (or more specifically the is–ought problem), as prescriptive moral statements cannot be derived from purely descriptive premises. " (Wikipedia: Survival of the Fittest)
 As you can see this whole poll is nothing more than the Discovery Institute trying to use some measure of opinion to support their religious ideas.  But then when you can't support it with science, you need something to convince your backers to keep funding you.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Creationism Harmful to Children

I have said on a couple of occasions that I don't consider Creationism Child Abuse, an example is my post "Is Creationism a form of Child Abuse?"  I still stand by that, but an article about the Ark Park certainly made me think. Recently the Boston Globe paid a visit to little kennie ham's ark ministry, the article is "Noah’s Ark, dinosaurs, and a theme park".  It's loaded with the usual contrasts between what kennie and his 'Hamians' say and what the real world says.  I did enjoy a couple of small points, for example:

". . . the Ark Encounter will host between 1.4 million and 2.2 million visitors in its first year . . ." 
Why I find this enjoyable is simple.  Since the announcement of the ark park the visitor estimate has been bounced all over the place.  Now, logically, and this was true for kennie's Creation 'Museum', the first few years usually the highest attendance.  After that it tends to slowly, or in some cases not so slowly, reduce down.  In fact in recent years the Creation 'Museum' is said to be in financial difficulties due to low attendance. (Kentucky’s ‘Creation Museum’ in Financial Trouble Due to Declining Attendance (VIDEO)).  So since the most recent estimates from kennie say about 1.2 million annually, other estimates, from people without a vested interest in the ark park (Hunden Strategic Partners in Chicago), said:
"estimated in the first year the park would receive roughly 325,000, with a peak attendance in the third year around 425,000, declining to 275,000 after that." (Source)
Which is roughly in the neighborhood of the Creation 'Museum' which took one month shy of three years to reach 1 million visitors.  I wish I knew what kennie's original estimates for his 'museum' were, I wonder if those estimates were as inflated as his ones for the ark ministry seem to be.  Another interesting point is:
"Science educators likely see that low and steadily decreasing number [of Creationists who follow little kennie's line] as good news. Ham isn’t so happy with this trend, which he blames on “evolutionary indoctrination through the public education system, secular museums, and much of the media.”
Ham sees AiG’s role as stopping the downward spiral. He wants to show people that all of the seeming impossibilities of Scripture can be scientifically reconciled with a little creativity." 
"With a little creativity" is such a fascinating phrase.  On the one hand you have what kennie and his followers calls the ultimate authority, and yet he needs to use creativity to get people to accept his version.  Do those two seem diametrically opposed to you?  They do so to me.  Which is why I do not consider kennie to be a Biblical Literalist, but a Biblical Revisionist.  He cherry pics from the Bible stories he likes and then he embellishes them to the point of unrecognizability.  For example, here is a photo from my visit to the Creation 'Museum':
Little kennie, in a effort to justify his position that humans and dinosaurs co-existed had to explain what dinosaurs ate.  So this little gem, they were all vegetarians.  Of course there is no evidence to support any of this, but kennie can't leave a question unanswered.  A couple other favorites is his rationalization of where Cain's wife came from and how animals were geographically dispersed after the ark landed.  Here is the explanation why Cain was able to marry his sister:
 All the Bible says about Cain's wife is a mention of the Land of Nod, east of Eden.  Little kennie took it from there and concocted this explanation.  As for biological geodiversity, that is how similar organisms exist in many part of the world, he dreamed up log rafts:
Doesn't he have a great imagination?  See why I refer to him as a Biblical Revisionist more than a Literalist?  He's not interested in what the Bible says, he's much more interested in what he claims it says.

OK, back to the Globe article.  This is the part that had me thinking about whether or not Creationism is harmful to kids:
"But is creationism is harmful to children? Compared to the risk of anti-vaccination pseudoscience in causing physical harm, the answer is no. More worrisome is the harm to children’s intellectual growth. Everyone at AiG was incredibly kind and seemed well-meaning, and the same goes for many creationists — but even people with the best intentions can end up, well, harming children who are paying attention.
Pete Enns, biblical scholar and author of “The Evolution of Adam,” sees creationism as harmful because it sets children up either to experience a crisis of faith or to become unflinchingly rigid about their own faith and closed off to their own human development. Both are tragic, he says."
There are more ways to harm children than what is considered abuse.  I had discussed how Creationism is a poor basis for many careers.  I mean aside from places like little kennie's Answers in Genesis (AiG) or the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), how many places are willing to hire an astrophysicist who insists the speed of light is a variable so we really have no way of knowing how far something is from Earth.  The article mentioned that little kennie likes to bring up the fact he has hired some people who hold PhD's, but in reality, how much actual scientific knowledge have those PhD's managed to pass on?  Has anyone seen a single actual scientific paper referenced from places like AiG and ICR!  As the writer said:
"People at my evangelical church used to talk the same way [as kennie and his pet PhD's] about celebrities who became born again — as if people of such caliber somehow legitimized everything we believed."
I know there will always be some who get their education and then turn on the subject to support their religious beliefs, but they will never be in the majority or even mainstream within those fields. The fact they have a degree in no way legitimizes their belief set.

What I hadn't considered was the inevitable reaction once they start learning the reality of the world around them.  They might have some sort of crisis in faith, or they might become so rigid they become a caricature of a theist, like little kennie.  I'm not sure I agree with the article that the crisis in faith is a tragedy for most folks.  I think whether or not it is a tragedy depends on the person more than anything else.  As we mature we discover many things that were told to us by authority figures that were later found to be untrue.  From childish things like the truth about Santa or even how your life will go.  Think about what you were told as a child about how your life was going to go?  Even as a teenager in HS or an adult in college.  How has that all worked out?

If you are like most people, things haven't followed any pre-explained path.  I never expected to serve 20 years in the AF, get into IT, or end up living in Ohio.  What I am trying to say is that you LIVE your life, you deal with things as they change, no matter what they are.  What was it John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are making other plans."  If a 'crisis' in your faith cripples you, then my only suggestion is don't subject any other child to the beliefs that hurt you!  But in all honesty, you have to get over it eventually.  I'm not sure you can consider discovering the faith you were raised in wasn't what you were taught it was as a reason for PTSD, but even that degree of a problem can be overcome.

As for the other reaction, the significant rigidity that can result.  I can't consider them tragic figures.  But I do feel a level of pity for the people they come into contact with or, God forbid :-), any children they might become responsible for.  But they do have to freedom to shut down the functioning parts of their brain.  My only objection is that they do not have the right to force me to belief as they do.  Which is why I object to pretty much everything little kennie does.  As I have said before, his idea of religious freedom is to let him believe as he wishes and let him force everyone else to believe as he does as well.  That's not religious freedom, that's more a form of religious tyranny. 

You really should consider how long various religions have had control over people's lives and how all that turned out.  Look at history . . . not the history kennie and any of his pet 'creation historians' try and sell you in the Creation 'Museum' Gift Shop, but actual history.  Religious tyranny is not some panacea that will solve all the world's problems! 

So there we have it, yes, creationism can be harmful to both adults and children, but how harmful is really up to the individual.  Without a doubt it damages potential career paths, at least until the individual overcomes their belief system, like the many theists who made incredible scientific advances.  Theists are capable of great things, but they simply have further to go because of that extra hurdle they have to overcome.  Little kennie sees that hurdle as an absolute limit, luckily most folks don't accept that.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Practical vs Impractical . . . or Evolution's utility vs Creationism!

One of the questions I have dived into several times discusses the impracticality of Creationism. More specifically the question I ask is what part of any scientific theory, or scientific advancement uses Creationism?  To date the answer to that question has been silence, and it continues to be silence.  No one has been able to point to anything that shows an actual use of Creationism in science.

The best some have tried to do is claim credit for some scientific advancement because the scientist who made the breakthrough was a theist of one form or another.  My response to that is usually "So what!"  Just because Newton believed in God, show me where God had a hand in Newton's theories? Show me the part of any theory where you identify and categorize the actions on any particular deity? No one has been able to, not once!

So since Creationism is pretty much useless, then Creationists must show that Evolution is also useless.  After all, isn't it logical to infer that if evolution is useless, then Creationism must be the only answer there is?  I know, not to me, and not to anyone with a working brain.  Even if you manage to convince someone that Evolution is useless, that doesn't automatically imply that Creationism suddenly has value.

But you know they have to try, and one of my favorite Creationists, the homophobic and Biblical-revisionist - little kennie ham - had one of his pet 'scientists' give it a go.  He's tried it before, remember just last year it was "A Renowned Creation Scientist, Inventor of MRI".  Of course this was nothing but an example of a theist who managed to develop some very cutting edge science regardless of his religious beliefs.  As usual, no one can point to any part of the theories behind magnetic imaging and say "and here is where God did such-and-such." But since he is a Creationists, little kennie uses him as a poster-boy for Creation Science.

I will repeat something I have said over and over again.  Being a Creationist doesn't mean you cannot think . . . it's just that being a Creationist, most tend not to think, particular when someone like little kennie is telling you that thinking certain things goes against his religious beliefs.  Well, this time kennie has a pet medical doctor who makes this claim: "Evolution Has "Absolutely No Effect" on Medical Practice".  To which I can only reply "Bullshit!"

Apparently Tommy Mitchell has forgotten much of what he learned in preparation for his medical career.  Many of the medicines and treatments he used were tested out on various animals.  Why is that?  It's because they react much in the same way humans do.  Why would that be?  Of course the Creationist would say that maybe they were placed on this Earth for the purpose of medical testing. But the evidence shows that such testing works because of the evolutionary relationship we have with those animals.  Here is a quote from little kennie that he says he got from Dr. Tommy:

"When Grandma’s in the ICU and her kidneys are not working, you’re not sitting there thinking, “Well, her kidney’s evolved.” No, you just care that Grandma’s kidneys don’t work, and you want them to work again. So, operationally, evolution had zero effect on anything I did as a physician"
So where did the treatment and medications Tommy must have used come from?  Let me guess a quick prayer and they just pop into existence on Grandma's nightstand?  Tommy might be disingenuous, but the majority of the medical field knows the impact of evolution on medicine!

How about pesticide/drug resistance?  Does Creationism have an answer why individuals and groups develop a resistance to certain pesticides/medications over time?  Evolution explains it quite handily and that is something medical research doctors take into account regularly.  But I guess Tommy wasn't one of those.

One of the most telling evidences that support evolutionary theory is genetics.  But maybe Tommy slept through that part of his education.  Phylogenetic analysis, ribotyping, and parasite virulence are a few other examples where Evolution has impacted medicine.  I have to thank Talk Origins for these examples, there are many more at "The Claim that the theory of evolution is useless, without practical application."

It seems Tommy has been operating a medical license without appreciating the underlying knowledge and information that supported everything he did as a medical doctor.  I really don't care that Tommy is a theist, but I don't appreciate it when he denigrates the science behind his own education.   Which is what he did when he said this:
"Actually, taking care of Grandma today in the hospital has nothing to do with accepting evolution"
Again, denying everything that went into the development of Grandma's medicines and treatments!  I did have to check and see if he got his medical education at Liberty University (Falwell's Lament), but no, he did go to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country.  Just goes to show you that Creationists are capable of insane level of denial!  No wonder he and kennie get along so well.

So Tommy has his say, I wonder if he will now list all the times Creationism was used in the development of medicines and medical treatments?  But I think if he were capable of addressing that, he would have lead off with it instead of trying to backdoor evolution.  I almost wish Tommy had been one of my granddaughter's doctors during a recent medical issue.  I would have loved to see him blubber through a creationist explanation of her treatment.  While it might be humorous to consider, I wouldn't have wished her to receive treatments from someone who can so glibly deny the science behind such treatments.  Luckily for his career as a doctor, science works whether you 'accept' evolution or not.