Richard Dawkins and the existence of god

You’re going to be reading this story about Richard Dawkins and his doubts about the NON-existence of god.  The Telegraph, a British newspaper, wrote about a recent public discussion between Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the traditional head of the Church of England (known as Anglicans outside of the USA, and Episcopalians in the USA):

There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”

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Mormons baptise Anne Frank–frankly, it’s disgusting

I lived in Utah during a couple of points in my life.  It is a beautiful state, with numerous outdoor activities available like hiking, fishing, rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking…I’m not being funded by the Utah Chamber of Commerce, so you get the point.  Living in Utah is an interesting proposition for someone like me who considers religion nothing more than myths carried from the Bronze Age (3000-500 BCE approximately), when human culture had barely left the last Glacial Maximum, and science was starting a fire.  Utah is essentially a theocracy, where government is mostly run by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (known as LDS or Mormons).  If you’re a non-Mormon (whom they call Gentiles) living in Utah, you sort of learn about the religion just by osmosis.  And you mostly ignore them (there is a de facto segregation of neighborhoods between Mormons and non-Mormons for a lot of complex reasons). Continue reading “Mormons baptise Anne Frank–frankly, it’s disgusting”

Victory for teachers who say that creationism is nonsense

Yesterday, the Supreme Court “declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student’s First Amendment rights.”  The case, C. F. v. Capistrano USD, involved a high school student who was insulted that his history teacher, James Corbett, didn’t think much of creationism and religion.  Some of Corbett’s comments (which deserve some sort of hero’s award) are:

“Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies — that’s interfering with God’s work.”

“When you pray for divine intervention, you’re hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want.”

Referring to creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense”, which lead to the lawsuit.

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Creationism legislation–New Hampshire

Not all anti-evolution legislation has been introduced in the southern or midwestern areas of the USA.  Two bills were introduced in New Hampshire, one of the few Republican areas of the northeastern part of the country.  Today, it was reported that a New Hampshire House committee dismisses bills on evolution.

The first bill, House Bill 1148, would have forced the state board of education to “[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”  Of course, from a scientific point-of-view, a scientific theory is about as close to a “fact” as you will find in science.  Evolution is a fact.   Although most atheists accept evolution (I’m always shocked to find a few atheists who dispute the fact of evolution), not everyone who accepts evolution is an atheist.  Like the whole Catholic Church, whose doctrine accepts evolution. Continue reading “Creationism legislation–New Hampshire”

Huffington Post and quote mining–one more reason to ignore them

The Huffington Post published an article recently entitled, Science and religion quotes: what the world’s greatest scientists say about God.  I rarely read HuffPo, despite my having a similar political point-of-view, because of what I perceive to be a high number of anti-science articles.  In this case, HuffPo tries to show how some of the great scientists were actually deeply spiritual if not religious.  Using quotes as evidence for a history or biography of an individual is pathetic and disingenuous, especially if taken out of context.  It would be as if we tried to describe Los Angeles based on a snapshot of one house in San Pedro. Continue reading “Huffington Post and quote mining–one more reason to ignore them”

How the placebo effect proves nothing and means nothing

Recently, there has been a large uptick in interest about the so-called placebo effect, mostly from the complementary and alternative junk medicine (CAM) crowd.  Evidently, they feel that being equivalent to doing nothing is good enough to be real.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Why Placebos Work Wonders, is indicative of this recent pro-placebo point-of-view.  I’ve got other bones to pick with WSJ on global warming, but I’ll save that for another day.

What exactly is the placebo effect?  The definition is often misused, implying some beneficial effect from a sugar pill or sham treatment.  But in medicine, a placebo is actually a failure.  If a new pharmaceutical, procedure or medical device shows no difference in efficacy compared to a placebo, then it is rejected.  But the CAM-pushing herd thinks that proves its a success when one of its potions and lotions is equivalent to a placebo.  What?  A failure of a modality in evidence-based medicine is somehow converted into a successful product in the CAM world? Continue reading “How the placebo effect proves nothing and means nothing”

Intelligent design in 2012

Since the start of the new year there seems to have been concerted effort in several midwest US states, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution by pushing creationist religious dogma in public schools (though not universities thankfully).  It’s difficult to understand what the goals of this push might be, since nearly all legal precedent supports the fact that creation science, creationism, intelligent design or whatever new term that will be invented is religious doctrine and cannot be taught in public schools.  Maybe Republican state legislators think the winds are at their back in making social change, or maybe they think the winds are shifting into their face, and so they should get moving before the electorate (which seems to be extraordinarily volatile these days) changes its mind again.

Creation science attempts to use science to validate the Genesis story of creation while simultaneously endeavoring to invalidate all the general scientific theories, facts, and paradigms that support the natural history of the universe including evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, and astrophysics.  Intelligent design (ID) is a slightly different flavor of creationism which states that features of the natural world, whether living things or physical processes, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  In other words, the central mechanism of evolution is not explained by natural selection and genetic drift, but by a designer.  ID also attempts to state that it is a scientific theory based on evidence, rather than a religious dogma based on no evidence.

Neither can be regarded as real science because they fail to meet even the most basic elements of science and the scientific method.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”  It’s the “modification of the hypothesis” that separates real science from pseudosciences like creation science and ID.  In other words, if we could falsify the central premise of either so-called theory, would the proponents modify their hypothesis?  That would mean that there is no supernatural being that created or designed the universe, which they are mostly unwilling to do.

On the other hand, real science is open minded about the itself.  It is willing to change its hypotheses and theories, to evolve (couldn’t resist) to new data points.  That is precisely why science is not a religion, but is, in fact, an essential philosophy to understand the natural world.  It is based on evidence, on analysis of that evidence, and, if necessary, modification of theories based on the evidence.  Scientists consider evolution to be a fact based the wealth of evidence supporting it.  The theory of evolution is one of the basic principles of biology (along with genetics, homeostasis, and cell theory), but if there were data that essentially disproved evolution, then science would modify the theory.  There is an old joke that if someone found a rabbit fossil in precambrian rocks, science would probably have to reevaluate and rewrite the theory of evolution.  However, most real scientists would be skeptical and wonder 1) if it really were a fossil, 2) if it were really a rabbit, 3) if it really was a precambrian rock layer, and 4) if it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by someone with an anti-science agenda.

But what is really problematic is that ID itself attempts to promote itself as a scientific theory where the designer is not the Judeo-Christian god.  The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based think-tank, is the primary proponent of ID.  They state that intelligent design is:

Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. 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. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago. 

Setting aside the fact that their so-called science doesn’t meet the basics of what constitutes real science (or the fact that they generally accept the age of life on earth), they go to great lengths to avoid naming the designer.  However, it has been determined that, despite the best efforts of the intelligent design movement, the designer represents the Judeo-Christian god.  Many have concluded that intelligent design is pseudoscience rather than just bad science.

Furthermore, the ID proponents use the so-called “wedge strategy”, a plan sponsored by the Discovery Institute, to further their political goals. The strategy was established in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes “a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”  In other words, it’s just religious dogma couched in scientific words that have little meaning.

Intelligent design and creation science are not only dangerous to scientific teaching, which is critical to the future of our country.  To continue to be leaders in medicine, research, new technologies, and whatever results from them, the country needs to have students with strong foundation in the sciences.  These anti-science legislators are almost anti-American (to play the “who’s more patriotic” card).  And if you take the long-term view (a rare skill indeed in our politicians), lack of science training could be a huge economic issue (still playing that patriotism card).

This current push for creationist teachings is still centered in one part of the country in just a few states.  Even if its reach is limited, let’s hope it can be crushed out before it gets too much traction in other Republican dominated state legislatures.

Update from Missouri | NCSE

Update from Missouri | NCSE.

The chief sponsor of this bill says the “jury is still out on evolution.”  Uh, what jury is that?  The one in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where a Federal Judge ruled that Intelligent Design is not science?  Or the scientific community that say’s evolution is basically a fact?  Or that intelligent design was “designed” to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In case anyone forgot, that clause states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

So, Intelligent Design is a religious doctrine.  The State of Missouri (well, at least some do) want to have that religious doctrine taught in public schools (run and funded by the State of Missouri).  Sounds like they might have a legal challenge ahead.