Creating an absurdity

I see that mouthy atheists are to blame for the spread of creationism. ROTFL. * chortle immoderately * etc

Well, so it says in the Guardian special on the rise of creationism.

They also claim that the aggression of the new atheists is helping them. They paint Dawkins as a “recruiting sergeant” for creationism because he links evolutionary thinking with atheism. “He has been a real help to the ministry, ” says Randall Hardy.
Creationists argue that the new atheists are fuelling the dogmatism; Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and a theistic evolutionary, last week threw that accusation back at them. “Creationists totally misunderstand the Bible,” he said. “Genesis is in the business of story, myth, poetry, metaphor. They [creationists and atheists] feed off one another. The debate has an unreality about it. Those of us who are not fundamentalists can’t find a place.”

Thus, even the relatively sane Bishop of Oxford puts atheism and creationism in the same conceptual “fundamentalist” box. And the full-blown creationist believes that -people who believe in God think they can’t believe in evolution, just because Dawkins links evolutionary thinking with atheism,

That is giving Dawkins much more influence than he can possibly dream of having. I refuse to believe that most people have even the vaguest ideas about evolution. Nor that more than a tiny minority of the population have ever read the God Delusion or even watched a Dawkins tv programme. (You would think that, almost by definition, people stupid enough to believe in creationism are too stupid to read erudite books or watch demanding tv)

Indeed, even the article undercuts the implications that there are grounds for this “Blame atheists for creationism” viewpoint.

Almost all Christians used to go along with the idea that Genesis was a bit suspect on dates, and that the six days of the Bible were metaphorical, with each day representing a vast geological age. The majority of Anglicans, theistic evolutionists who have no difficulty in believing in a Darwinian God, would still abide by that. But the publication in 1961 of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood, which set out to give a scientific demonstration of the literal truth of the Bible, emboldened those who refused to accept evolution.

1961? Dawkins was 20 then. I’m pretty certain this predates The God Delusion by a few decades. Well, Wikipedia informs me that the God Delusion was published in 2006.

What on earth was fuelling creationism in the intervening decades, then, if noisy atheists are to blame now?

Or are we to start dating the “New Atheism” in creationist terms, so that we are to accept not only that dinosaurs walked with men but that an undergraduate Dawkins managed to spark the rise in creationism with his strident atheist complaints?

This article does provide creationist “answers” to two questions that have long baffled me.

  • Question: Why didn’t Noah take all the dinosaurs into the ark if humans and dinoasurs were all happily living together?
    Answer:

    Creationists, who argue that the world was created no more than 10,000 years ago, believe dinosaurs and man co-existed in the pre-Flood period (they date the Flood to around 1,600 years after the creation), that there were dinosaurs on the ark, but that they were eventually wiped out by the changes in climate which followed the Flood.

    Ah, it wasn’t that Noah just didn’t like dinosaurs. (Mentally upscale the conceptual size of ark needed, from one the size of France to one the size of Asia) He did his level best to save them but somehow they proved unable to survive in a changed environment. (Oh, you mean, like evolutionary processes?)

  • Question 2:
    What have creationists got against the biological sciences that they don’t have against mathematics or physics or geography?

    Answer:
    It seems that biology is nothing special. They are indeed just as willing to abandon all sciences where they conflict with the Bible.

    …..virtually all existing science has to be rewritten – and the creationists are ready to do the rewriting. The speed of light, Rosevear argues, used to be 300 times faster than it is now – necessary for creationists to explain cosmology and the distance of other solar systems from our own; the great cataclysm of the Flood explains the formation of sedimentary rock and the distribution of fossils; …

The Guardian writer either assumes that almost any reader will see the creationists as self-evident nutters or he lacks the most basic information-processing skills. For example, he uncritically reports “findings” from all those surveys (e.g for Theos :-)) that supposedly show that sizeable minorities of the population are creationists.

And his naivety seems incomprehensible when he says this:

British creationism is surprisingly independent from the far bigger, better funded, more vocal, highly politicised movement in the US, where creationists and intelligent design organisations (often a front for Christian creationists) are fighting perpetual legal battles to get creationist teaching into the classrooms of state schools.

The Portsmouth Genesis Expo may be a saggy old cloth cat to the Cincinnati Creation Museum’s roaring lion. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t manifestations of the same species, seen once in tragedy (Creation Museum) ; the second time in farce (Genesis Expo).

If I had to choose between whether to blame “The New Atheism” or the media (who present the opinions of lunatics as if they have some validity, in a “two sides to every argument” distortion of the concept of balance) for the rise of creationist lunacy, I know where I’d lay most of the blame.

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Darwin and the Tree of Life

Possibly the best “educational” program I have seen on television in as long as I can remember. Better than Michio Kaku, better than all the discovery channel shows, better than all the rest.

I am talking about a wonderful BBC1 program – Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life – which has just finished. If you missed it, I cant stress how much you really should watch this on iPlayer. It is a part-Open University funded education program, supported by an interesting BBC Darwin website, where you can catch a glimpse of the program if it isnt on the iPlayer yet.

In a nutshell, David Attenborough shows his fantastic qualities as a presenter and takes the viewer on a tour through the history of the theory of evolution. He is genuinely enthusiastic about the science and has a presentational style that is unmatched. I was actually saddened at one point in the program, when I realised that 30 years ago people were more accepting of evolution and our place in the world than they are today. Thanks to the idiocy of fundamentalist religion we really are going back in time.

Attenborough calmly and politely mocks the ideas that all species were created as they are with no change and gives a wonderful (if brief) example of how the eye is a good example of evolution at work. It is all well done and while the hardened scientist may object at some simplification, this is a program which explains evolution in an hour for the general public. To that end some abbreviation of the tree of life is understandable.

Sadly, the BBC website sort of undermines Attenborough’s fantastic work with this line:

David shares his personal view on Darwin’s controversial idea.

Now, while it was indeed controversial in the 1860’s it is now valid science with solid evidential backing. The controversy is not real. Implying it is still there plays into the hands of the idiots and anti-educationalists. Shame really.

This program shows that, despite its faults, the BBC really can pull it out of the bag when it comes to “important” programs.

Big Bang Confuses Creationists

Now I know this isn’t Earth-shattering news, and hopefully anyone literate enough to make it to this blog will already understand the basic principles of the big bang, but I was reading through FSTDT (as always) and this comment drew my attention:

whats funny is science is catching up with the BIBLE! GOD spoke all things into existence Genesis is spot on, just? check out “big bang acoustics” you can actually find an audio tape of the “early” universe. I don’t agree with the “20 billion years ago nothing exploded part” but the fact that sound has a vital role in the creation of the universe is as it is written! Amen! (source)

Interesting as this is one the few “fundie” comments that seems to accept the existence of the “Big Bang” – sadly combined with some stunning lacks of knowledge and logic, but you cant have everything.

It got me wondering why so many religious types do their best to deny the “Big Bang” as a figment of imagination.

Even the name “big bang” was coined as a derisory put down for a theory that Fred Hoyle felt had too much “God” in it. It has the potential to support all manner of primitive creation myths – although it does undermine the chronology of certain sacred tomes.

In a nutshell then, given how this could really fit in with a “creator,” why do so many creationists hate the idea of a “creation event?” Are they really so lacking in basic logic?

(obviously the answer seems to be yes, but I still have some residual hope for humanity…)

When Education Fails People…

Well, the wonderful Atheist Ethicist blog has pointed to some, frankly, insane ramblings coming out of one of the Professors at Baylor University. Alonzo has pretty much summed up the logical faults with the ramblings by Dr Roger Olsen so I am largely left to simply poke fun at the complete lack of any form of understanding or critical reasoning abilities his writing demonstrates.

Basically, it is shameful that a professor (albeit of theology) is so incapable of following the basic process of reasoning and it is a sad indictment of the effects of “faith” that it has made him blind to the monumental confusion his posts displays. If Dr Olsen were an undergraduate, you’d hope this sort of writing would pretty much end up with an “F.” At best.

If there were any form of World Justice, this sort of nonsense would soon cause people to stop enrolling at Baylor. Unfortunately, I suspect it will have the opposite effect when other members of the “faithful” see this sort of thing and decide they would rather avoid an education at Baylor than elsewhere.

Dr Olsen sets the tone for his gibberish article with:

I feel sorry for atheists. They are so much in the minority in American society and they are bound to feel some marginalization if not persecution.

Oh what wonderful patronisation. I am not an American so I have no idea if this is true or otherwise. However it speaks volumes as to the true nature of Dr Olsen. Here he is claiming “Atheists” are a tiny minority who feel persecuted. Rather than demonstrating the “Christian charity” he is more than happy to continue, and increase, the persecution. If the word “atheist” were replaced with any other minority group, he would never have had the temerity to write the words which follow on. Equally interestingly, if Atheists are such a minority, why does Dr Olsen care?

With an interesting twist of linguistics and some (frankly confusing) logic, Dr Olsen continues with this wonderful snippet:

Christians should be the last people to persecute anyone — including atheists. But that doesn’t mean Christians have to accommodate atheism as they tolerate and love atheists.

I am intrigued as to how you can “tolerate atheists” while not accommodating them? Obviously Dr Olsen is one of those confused people who believes that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion and would rather someone worshipped Baal than didn’t worship any gods.

The confused diatribe continues. Dr Olsen seems to mainly hate atheists because:

So far, at least, atheists haven’t demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way.

Blimey. Here we fall once more into the weird idea that “Atheists” have to become an organised religious group before it can be tolerated. In some respects this is not completely different to some of the ideas kicked around by prominent non-theists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, where there seems to be some urge to organise and politicise atheism. This is something which has been mentioned here in the past, and largely I am not in favour of it. Atheists only share one thing in common and can cover the full political spectrum as well as demonstrating varying levels of rationality. Creating a Church of Atheism is (IMHO of course) foolhardy and does nothing but pander to the thoughts of nutcases like Dr Olsen.

As Alonzo points out on his blog, atheists do huge quantities of good deeds, build hospitals and donate fortunes to charities etc., but they are generally not done under an “atheist” umbrella. From Dr Olsen’s post, he seems to acknowledge this but continues to rail against atheism for no reason other than the lack of organisation. This really confuses me.

Does Dr Olsen honestly think it is such a big deal? Is every religious organisation a “Good Thing” or are they a combination of good, bad and indifferent? Atheists support religious groups and non-religious groups. Is Dr Olsen completely unaware of any organisation which seeks to help others and is not religiously motivated? If so, I suspect he really does need to broaden his horizons somewhat.

As he continues, Dr Olsen shows that having a doctorate and a professorial appointment is no indication of anything beyond a basic education outside your own highly specialised field (in this case, invisible people theology):

And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism — the idea that society should not help the weak because it’s nature’s way to weed out the less fit.

This is mind boggling. Fifteen year olds come up with more robust arguments. Here, Dr Olsen shows he has no understanding of what “Darwinism” really means, so one is led to suspect he is firmly entrenched in the creationist corner. If he honestly thinks this is either true or a good argument against atheism, I am truly ashamed for Baylor university.

Sadly, it seems he does think this:

Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God’s image).

Obviously, Dr Olsen believes that without belief in a deity (any deity) people will not help the weak. He is so woefully unaware of nature that he must either think animals have gods or he has never seen herd animals (for example) helping their weak and sick. That aside, it is simply an empty argument. Belief in a deity is not required to make people help others – atheists who help others disproves it immediately – therefore having this as his basic premise shows his entire line of argument is logically flawed.

Dr Olsen seems to think that if a person chooses to do good simply because they are good person it really means they are an evil atheist. Whereas a person who does good against their will because they are scared the invisible Sky Elf will punish them is actually a good theist.

Madness. Pure Madness.

For Dr Olsen, once he set off on this path of logical fallacy, there was no turning back:

The only logical option for the atheist is nihilism — belief that nothing has any objective meaning or purpose.

Wow. The only people who think this is true are poorly educated, ignorant, theists. I feel sorry for people like this because they really are lost sheep. They would be out in the streets killing, raping and stealing before they killed themselves if it wasn’t for the basic fear they have of the apparently kindly-yet-massively-vengeful deity who watches their every movement.

The reality is for atheists life on Earth tends to have much more meaning and purpose because it is all we have. There is no afterlife where we can relish the rewards for our Earthly behaviour. There is no atonement for every sin. There are no virgins waiting to serve us if we kill ourselves and take a few infidels along for the ride. All we have is here on Earth so, generally, Atheists will (or at least should) do their best to make it the best possible Earth.

As he gets his full head of gibberish going, Dr Olsen writes:

Küng admitted that atheism is a rational “basic choice” and it cannot be proven wrong in any kind of absolute way.

But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently.

What makes something evil or unjust if nothing like God exists — if nature is all there is? Only subjective choice either by an individual or a society. But that can change and it often does. Without God, the social prophet has no way out of relativism.

Wow. Küng wrote it therefore Dr Olsen’s interpretation must be 100% true…

The massive ironic part of this is that the Religious definitions of good and evil have changed over time along with society. Despite the stone-like qualities of the ten commandments, even these are not set in stone. Nations Under God are allowed to kill if the secular nation decided it is in its best interests. God does not decide, people do. Activities which were “sinful” a thousand years ago are commonplace now and vice versa. Can you imagine picking up a sword, killing fifty people then paying a priest to absolve you of your sin? Well if you believe in God this was acceptable for most of the history of Christianity.

Fundamentally, pretty much everything Dr Olsen has wrote is incorrect or logically flawed. His basic premises are complete nonsense:

  1. Being organised does not make good deeds better, not being organised does not make them worse.
  2. Religious definitions of “good” and “evil” have changed over time in keeping with society.

That such nonsense could be written by a “Professor” (even one of theology) is mind boggling. He seems unable to carry out basic research into anthropology, evolution, history (etc). What does this say about Baylor university…

Baylor and universities like it exist to promote objective values and meaningful existence.

Obviously anything resembling an education is a very distant runner up.

Dr Olsen finishes with:

Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.

But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life — not because of it.

In a similar vein, I have nothing against people who believe in fairies, elves, ghosts, trolls, demons, deities etc. In my opinion they are, generally, people of character and virtue in spite of their madness belief, not because of it.

Uncommon Stupidity

It has been awhile since I have “braved” the well of stupidity, vitriol, hatred and confusion which is Uncommon Descent but today I had a look.

Wow.

The stupidity remains. An entertaining highlight was ““No thanks, I’ll take two fivers” — Dumping Darwin from British currency.” Now, this really is full of nonsense. I was planning to post some select highlights but there are too many to choose from!

Basically the post (by Dembski) is that we (the British) should drop Darwin from the £10 note. He starts off going on about how, with the new twenty, the Bank of England is changing the “famous person” on the note and continues:

This is a news-worthy cause for British Darwin-doubters, who should urge that Darwin be dumped from the 10-pound note whenever there is a new security-upgrade version, on grounds that he is the chief prophet of the materialist religion, and his presence on the 10-pound note is an inappropriate endorsement of that materialist religion and its related anti-religious ferment. Now, it’s true that Britain has no 1st Amendment, but still, Britain is trying to be multi-cultural. A part of the effort could include a long list of choice inflammatory quotes from the new anti-religion books currently out in the bookstores (and in Darwin’s own writings — see the previous post here at UD); the effort could point out that the government, by honoring Darwin, implicitly lends its prestige to their venom.

See what I mean? Gibberish at its best. Dumbski Dembski moves on to talking about Darwin being a racist (nonsense but the UDders seem to like it) and decides William Wilberforce would be a better contender (on the apparent advice of the Fabian Society but I can find no confirmation of that with the search engine there…). This leads to a fantastic line of woo:

Thus, this effort would also kick-off a comparison of what good has been brought to the world by these two people — Darwin vs. Wilberforce. Nazi Eugenics vs. the abolition of slavery. Is there really any contest?

Which brings up the reason I keep posting juicy bigotted and racist quotes by Darwin and his disciples here at UD. While the intellectual community may know them, the general public does not. Suppose the public decided that every time it accepted a “Darwin” (a 10-pound note) in payment or in change for a purchase, it was implicitly endorsing those terrible quotes? People would likely say, “No thanks, I’d rather have two fivers. I don’t take money that praises racists and bigots — and neither should you.”

In other words, promote a boycott of the Darwin 10-pound note because it promotes racism. It’s like putting Robert E. Lee on the ten-dollar bill because he was a great general, and ignoring the cause he served. This would work particularly well because the goal of the Fabians and other multiculturalists is to re-define Britain to be racially-inclusive. Thus there is a particular reason to highlight the racism of Darwin and get rid of him.

I really do think this is some one going off the deep end. Proponents of ID still have no science, evidence or data to support their ideas. The best they can aim for a rather pathetic attempt to paint a dead person in a bad light. They constantly fall foul of the fallacious idea that attacking a person (Darwin, Dawkins etc) is the same as attacking their ideas. In really, it wouldn’t matter if Darwin was racist (he wasn’t – at least not by the standards of his time), it wouldn’t even matter if what Darwin thought was the “Theory of Evolution” was wrong. Things have changed. Time has passed. Science has progressed and the theory of evolution has evolved.

Sadly, the IDers are trapped in a world which means not only are they incorrect but they are incapable of properly arguing their side, but can never give in.

You have to pity them, don’t you?

Department of the Stupid

Although online time is limited here today, I took a look a the ever entertaining Pharyngula and found a post about CreationWiki. Now, not being one to pass up something which has farce written all over it in big creationist-style letters, I just had to have a look.

Wow.

The CreationWiki is almost beyond belief. Reading the posts there is almost vomit inducing and I honestly hope it was put together by school children at best. It strikes me that the contributors have had a brushing acquaintance with science, decided they didn’t like it and have run in the total opposite direction. I am far from the best scientist in the world (if I was, I wouldn’t be blogging here..) but it takes, on average, less than 60 seconds to find critical faults in almost every one of the “wiki” entries on this site. It really is that bad. You have to check it out.

It’s blurb on the front page speaks volumes about what you can hope to expect from such an august website:

The CreationWiki is a free encyclopedia of creation science being assembled by the international creationist community. We encourage all creationists to get involved with the development of this valuable resource.

And yes this wiki does show how thin on the ground Creation Science is. They cite the crank Vox Day as if he is a credible source of knowledge. They jump at every chance to insult or denigrate Darwin – for some reason it is common for creationists to think the theory of evolution is in the exact same form as it was when Darwin first thought of it, that it may have evolved itself is beyond their ability to comprehend.

For some reason I am not fully sure of yet, while this site mangles Physics, Cosmology, Biology, Palaeontology (etc.), it seems to leave Chemistry largely unscathed. That is either because my chemistry is a lot worse than any other subject or maybe Creationists are just chemists in disguise….

Prove or Disprove

Short one as not much to rant about today, however some general web surfing has made me think about a few issues in science related to Evolution / Creationism.

The scientific method is well established and is certainly the “generally accepted” way of defining what is scientific and what isn’t. This method, not some half baked 2000 year old text which has been re-written more times than I can count, provides the yardstick against which all science is measured – be it Evolution, Relativity, Electromagnetism, anything. Without it, well, it’s back to the dark ages.

The crux of the method is the ability to make testable predictions and carry out proper experiments which can falsify the theory. You dont actually have to prove the theory wrong for it to be scientific (although this is a common misconception of the term) but you need to be able to construct an experiment which could prove the theory wrong. This is important so make a note of it.

Now, on to the wonders of creationism. Most, if not all, creationist propaganda carries the sole message that “Evolution is Wrong.” If you do a YouTube, Google or (especially) a MySpace search you come across all manner of idiocy and madness about the topic. People saying “evolution is wrong because … [insert nonsense].” Things range from the “missing link” oddity to crazy arguments like irreducible complexity. The main thing they all have in common is the nonsense and bad science which tends to back them.

The important thing, in the context of this post anyway, is the issue about disproving evolution.

First off, the fact that the lunatics (ID, YEC et al) are capable of coming up with a possible experimental circumstance which could disprove evolution reinforces the fact that evolution is scientific. Scientific does not mean true or correct. Newtonian Gravity was a scientific theory which turned out to be incorrect. This is part of the way science works. A scientific fact has more caveats than the average person would ever think of applying to something “factual.”

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, even if the lunatics did manage to disprove the theory of evolution, that does not mean Creationism takes a default win. That is not how science works. A flaw in general relativity (eg, interactions on the quantum scale) does not mean Newtonian Gravity is correct – or to be a more accurate analogy, a flaw in GR does not mean gravity is caused by bananas. Finding something in a theory which is wrong is the “Holy Grail” (all puns intended) of science. It means people get to advocate new Scientific theories (sorry, creationists, you dont count). People get Nobel prizes. People get huge amounts of funding. (and so on).

Intelligent Design / Creationism / whatever, is not scientific. It really isn’t. Saying “God Did It” is not science – even changing God to something you think will slip under the radar still does not make it science. If anything it is the end of science. It blocks further investigation because if anything is unknown or fails to meet the predictions you can just say “the creator wanted it that way and who are we to second guess the all-mighty one?”

Falsifying evolution would be a good thing, but it certainly would not mean creationism was the correct science. The theory of evolution is scientific. It almost certainly is not the endstate for our understanding of life and it makes no predictions about how life started, but it is a valid, solid, theory. Just like gravity. I am not going to even think of getting worked up about the “it’s just a theory” crap…