Dr Who and the End of the Universe

I will try to steal Heather’s jump on this topic today as I had the rare chance to watch Dr Who first time round.

It was always going to be hard for Dr Who to improve on last weeks brilliant episode and I am not sure this week managed it. Last week, there was a fantastic mix of tension which gave the episode the air of a classic horror film (i.e. not relying on gore). This week it seems to have fallen back on some tried and tested Dr Who routines but it was still watchable.

Warning – spoiler. Don’t read on if it will bother you to get an insight into the plot.

In a nutshell, the Dr has been catapulted to the end of the universe, comes across a bunch of humans who are heading to Utopia (which may be mythical) and he helps them on their way. The humans are being attacked by “Future Kind” (frankly pathetic baddies) and at the end the doctor realises he is not alone when he confronts the Master. Next week, in the series finale (season finale to colonials) we find out what happens after the Master steals the Tardis and abandons the Dr on the planet, about to be overwhelmed by Future Kind.

As I said, it was watchable. It didn’t have the tension that “Blink” had but it was head and shoulders above some of the dross episodes previously (like the first one of the season). As general TV goes, it is one of the BBCs strongest programmes and probably the only worthwhile UK-made Sci Fi on TV now. This isn’t saying much though.

Almost as if the scriptwriters were pandering to my demands, this episode (and the next one, I assume) was set quite some distance from 21st century London. This certainly helped the episode and is well overdue for the series. Moving to an alien planet in an alien time is what Dr Who should be about. I will admit my heart sank when the episode opened in Cardiff but thankfully that was brief!

Added into this, the two-parter nature gave the plot lots of breathing space. Russell Davies was allowed to create a few minor twists and introduce some side-characters to give the whole thing a feeling of depth. This helps and really, the BBC should make every “story” span over several episodes. Do they really have such a low opinion of their viewers?

Pushing on from this, there was the requisite “crazy science” thrown in – sometimes this worked, but sometimes it dropped a bit of a stone. I like the concept of the rocket etc., but I am intrigued how, gazillions of years in the future, Humanity has managed to avoid evolving beyond how we are today – even in dress sense. Comically, the human enclave was guarded by men carrying AK-47 assault rifles, I am sure if Mr Kalashnikov had known how robust his design actually was, he would have been over the moon. Suspension of disbelief is important, but really, a culture which has a rocket that can escape the end of the universe using an assault rifle that is, even now, over sixty years old… 😀

Last, but not least, of the good points. David Tennant is a brilliant Dr Who. Easily on a par with Tom Baker – which is saying an awful lot! Freema Agyeman is now a more than competent assistant. I have revised my opinion of her acting skills over the last few episodes and she is quite good now. Well done to them both. Sadly, the supporting cast rarely match up to their acting skills.

There were downsides. Capt Harkness is always a negative point. A massive one most of the time. Possibly the most irritating character to ever “assist” the Dr, he was put out to pasture in Torchwood. This was terrible, so why they have brought him back is beyond me. Obviously he either owns the BBC or has lots of black mail material. Do they think it was the other people (cant bring myself to call them actors) who made torchwood crap? Please, can’t they just kill him?

The “Future Kind” we offensive as monsters go. It must have taken about six seconds to come up with them and less time to decide on their look. Most school kids can make more believable baddies. Add in the sole effect of evolution seems to be a lot of tattoos and jewellery and it becomes a bit too comical. And not in the good way. Might as well have made them all march in step, taken loads of shots of their feet stamping and put them in jump suits – it is what they have done for all the other baddies…

I am going to hold judgement on the Master. I never really took to him in the Tom Baker episodes, and he has stolen the Tardis before IIRC so this might be an unoriginal plot… Hopefully he will be more than a stereotyped cackling baddie, and I am a bit optimistic from the part where the Master says how he isn’t going to spend time telling the Doctor his plans, which would allow the Doctor time to come up with a counter. I liked that, but it has been done before.

Overall, though, this was a good episode. It had the requisite back references to other geek-culture items (blogs for instance), but it was not brilliant. “Blink” was much better.  Much, much better. That said, when the series finishes next week I will be sad. Hopefully the BBC will replace it with something decent, otherwise I can spend the hour after eating, before NCIS starts, playing Medieval Total War II….

[tags]bbc, david-tennent, david-tennant, dr-who, doctor-who, freema-agyeman, Captain Jack, Jack Harkness, Captain Jack Harkness, Tom Baker, Tardis, Master, Timelords, NCIS, Torchwood, Future Kind, Evolution, Russell T Davies, Televistion, Sci Fi, Science Fiction, Science[/tags]

Gods and evolution

There are some comprehensive lists of Roman and Greek gods and goddesses in Gregory Flood’s Lists of Roman Godds and Goddesses.

These were people who didn’t mess about, if they found themselves without a handy god for any occasion. They just made one. There’s a god called Scabies, ffs. (of Itching, in case you wondered).

How did we get from the complex and changing pantheons of the Greeks and Romans and Vikings and Yoruba and Egyptians and indigenous Americans, etc, etc. to the dull God of Abraham? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

There’s an analogy between loss of diversity in species and loss of diversity in beliefs. As humans have shaped more and more of the environment, more unique and colourful species tend to give way under human pressure on their habitats. So, we see the lowest common denominator species prospering. The rat, the cockroach, the pigeon, the housefly all doing very well. (Basically all grey and able to live on s.ite.)

Pantheons reflect a human-centred worldview – a capacity to look for patterns in the universe and human society and to express our innate capacity for transcendence. The list of available gods can be revised in an ongoing basis to accommodate new ones when the old ones don’t work. Human rulers were happy to promote themselves to Godhood, whenever they felt the need.

This suggests that many people were aware that their religions were human constructs but could square this with the social and psychological benefits they got from their rituals. Compared to this, worship of one God seems willfully unsophisticated, and leads to inherent logical contradictions and a need to smite the ungodly.

The one God has expanded to take over the mental and social space we have for deities, dominating whole societies and lives. As far as I can see, this represents an flattening of mental diversity, as when one species – that can live well amongst humans whether we like it or not – replaces the variety that could co-exist in a more fertile environment.

Evolution Falsified By Genetic Algorithims?

For the interests of people who read this blog sans comments (shame on you), I have “promoted” a short debate taking place in the comments of Heather’s post titled “ID Advocates Never Sleep.” I have done this, largely, because I think it is interesting and one side of the debate shows how a misconception about the applicability of a theory over different domains can lead to all manner of, what I think is, illogical reasoning.

Please feel free to add any comments of your own, either here or on the original post. This is quite long, and it broadly just repeats posts from previously so it is under the fold for those viewing on the blog.

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The Evolution of Fear

Again, sorry this is a long rant – I am in a bad mood. Comments are welcome though.

Once upon a time, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was renowned the world over for the way the population handled hardship and adversity. The “Stiff Upper Lip” was such a powerful stereotype it still endures today.

During the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the British Stiff Upper Lip was heavily put to the test. The century began with a hammering in Africa, followed by the loss of almost an entire generation on the fields of Flanders and the Somme. The interwar years were wrought with economic depression which was only relieved when the deaths of the second world war reduced the population enough for there to be more jobs. Entire cities were destroyed (Coventry) and most major population centres endured nightly bombing raids.

The end of the war only brought limited respite for the British handling of adversity. Crippled by economic debt and the ravages of the war, the Empire collapsed piece by piece. Britain was quickly over taken in the world power stakes by the upstarts (America for example 🙂 ), and to all intents and purposes became a secondary nation on the world stage. The somewhat anomalous status as permanent member of the UNSC is down to possession of nuclear weapons and nothing else. The break up of empire was accompanied by various military defeats (Suez, Korea), while the victories were sometimes hollow (Borneo, Malaysia). The apparent collapse spurred domestic agitators into more and more violence until by the mid 1960s, Northern Ireland was not dissimilar to Bosnia thirty years later.

Throughout this all the stiff upper lip remained. The ideas about what made “British” society were upheld and, generally, life went on. If you had proposed a national identity card scheme in 1970 you would have been laughed at for the rest of your life.

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Evolution – Humour or Crank?

Once more, the Great Tuatatis has guided me to some more erratic websites (I suspect I actually found it as a link on someone else’s blog, but unfortunately I cant remember who to tip my hat to, sorry).

Anyway, however it happened, on the phs1966.com blog, there is a post called “Can we really call evolution science.” It is a short post, so I will copy it here in full: Continue reading

Undesigned Universe – Downloads

Over on Nullifidian’s blog, he has posted some links to where you can DL some good MP4s:

The Undesigned Universe is a series of three lectures (9-11 January 2007 at Princeton University) from Peter Ward, Professor of Biology and Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington.

If you haven’t already done so, go there and download them.

How to Defend Religion?

(found from Nullfidian’s excellent blog)

I was reading the write up on the various Times Online sites of the “Intelligence Squared” event which tool place recently. Basically this was a debate on the motion “We’d be better off without religion.” On the side For the motion were Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. On the side Against the motion were Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey.

Ruth Gledhill, the Times’ Religion reporter, has written an interesting summary of the proceedings titled “Articles of Faith.” Gledhill describes herself as someone who is sure God exists, yet there is not much in the way of a pro-theist bias in the reporting. All in all, it struck me as a reasonable post (not least because she says the “For” argument was better than the “Against” one 🙂 ).

Towards the end of the piece it gets a bit strange though. When talking about the dangers of creationism, she writes:

Well I’d be upset if my son became a creationist but there is no chance of that, not in the Church of England at least.

Which, while reasonable, is a risky proposition to take. Creationism / ID is a fundamental part of the monotheistic doctrines, so while [insert religion] may not overtly push it, it is there below the surface. I would love to see a Christian doctrine which does not assert the universe was created by God, and that man was not made in his image. Although I may be biased, I find it hard to see how some can reconcile this belief with anything else.

Next she comes to something I find very strange, yet it seems used all the time by “reasonable” people when they want to defend their faith:

[Dawkins] problem is that he takes religion too literally, and as many have pointed out, is too fundamentalist about his own atheistic creed.

Wow. All over the net, on TV, the radio and in papers people try to defend religion, and deflect criticism, by saying the critic is taking religion “too literally.” Personally I am at a loss for any other way to do it. Either God exists or he doesn’t. I assume Christians (and Jews/Muslims) believe God exists – is that taking religion too literally?

Religion is built around doctrine and “rules” which are claimed to be the word of God. If the faithful get to pick and choose which ones they follow, doesn’t that make a mockery of that which is already comical? If the best defence for “religion” is that it is something which gives people the chance to get together with each other and has some vague good ideas (don’t want to take the doctrine literally, do we?) then it strikes me it really is an idea which has passed its sell by date.

If religion is not meant to be taken seriously, what is it?

On a different note, as always, the comments in response to a post like this produce much more entertainment. Gledhill is too good, too reasonable, a writer to really froth properly – unlike those who comment … 🙂

Some examples include:

I agree with Richard Dawkins, we WOULD be better off without religion.
But Jesus… without Him, we are all – literally – lost! (David Smith)

Not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or what.

This kind of format suits both Dawkins and Grayling if they speak in the same way that they write. They like to write controversial bluster which they don’t need to provide references for or explain further. (Phil Craig)

I assume that was a joke. Both write books which are filled with references, unlike the religious apologists or more relevantly the holy books themselves. When the Bible claims that “In the beginning…” where is the reference to back this up? Interesting when Phil Craig is challenged about his comments, David Smith responds:

Mike George:
‘To suggest that [Dawkins] offers ‘controversial bluster’ with no explanation is to ignore the fact that the whole of his writing offer rational arguments and link to scientific study and theory.’

Richard Dawkins:
1.’It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane, or wicked… ‘

2. ‘I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywherein the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection (i.e. evolution).’

Still, at least Dawkins is consistent with Darwin himself.

Having made an exhaustive study of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, which set the evolution ball running, American engineer Henry Morris wrote: ‘One can search the whole book in vain for any real scientific evidences for evolution – evidences that have been empirically verified and have stood the test of time. No proof is given anywhere – no examples are cited of new species known to have been produced by natural selection, no transitional forms are shown, no evolutionary mechanisms are documented… One can only marvel that such a book could have had so profound an influence on the subsequent history of human life and thought.’

Which broadly shows a lack of understanding (two references out of context – sounds like Uncommon Descent to me..) about both Dawkins’ work and the actual mechanics of the theory of evolution (and how science works). For some reason, UD may be to blame, anti-evolutionists seem to think that the whole current theory was written by Darwin in Origin. Madness. I suppose this is what comes of being tied to a book which is not supposed to ever change…

There are more, but I could end up spending all month writing about them so I will stop now. Have a look, see what you think and if there are any more howlers please let me know.

We have them here too – Dubious English ID blog

The British Centre for Science Education: Revealed blog is crying out for a good metaphorical kicking.

It exists solely to attack the British Centre for Science Education (whatever that is) on the grounds that it’s basically an atheist plot.

The purpose of this blog is to examine the new group calling itself the “British Centre for Science Education”. We aim to shed light on the available facts concerning its membership, published statements and discussions. In doing so, we expect that you will come to the same conclusion as we have – that anybody taking it seriously needs to take another look.

The blogista’s personal statement says:

I am a graduate in both science (Masters) and theology (Bachelors), and a minister of Grace Church Belper, an evangelical Christian church in Derbyshire, United Kingdom

Well, I am surprised. An evangelical church? Who’d have expected this blog to have an evangelical agenda? That is almost as surprising as there being atheists in an organisation called the British Centre for Science Education. This world is truly full of new and surprising wonders every day. You would almost think there must be an all-knowing designer behind it all. 🙂

It’s hard to pick out any specific posts for your entertainment as the whole site oozes rage. This is mainly directed at the arch-atheists seen as in charge of the the BCSE, as the other members are assumed to be too naive to understand what they have signed up to.

I suspect that some of BCSE members are simply philosophically naive – they really do imagine that a hard materialist approach to science is “neutral” or “value free”.

(I really would be surprised if anyone with any epistemological understanding thought science – or any human endeavour – was “value free”. At the same time, it’s quite difficult to think of much in the realm of science where a “hard materialist approach” wouldn’t be the only option.)

I can only assume that the BCSE must be some organsiation that is seeking to support the teaching of evolution, otherwise how could it have stirred up this blog’s ire to the extent of devoting a whole blog to opposing it.

You wouldn’t think that standing up for rationalism in British science education would even be necessary, would you? It would be like having to set up an organisation to support the value of integrating exercise into PE lessons. Sadly, this blog suggests otherwise.

I’ll resist the temptation to quote any posts from the blog as I would be spoilt for choice. Look at it yourself if you have an obscure sense of humour and a very high boredom threshhold.

Join the Animation

(hat tip: Pharyngula)

A Scottish animator (Iain Gardner) is looking for people to send him JPGs of themselves, holding either a light bulb or an apple, to be spliced together into an animated video. Watch the YouTube clip for more details:

Seems like a reasonable thing, quite easy to take part and the results should be interesting. I think I will have a go this weekend. (Apple – obviously 🙂 ).

If you like the idea of this, please help spread the word.

[tags]YouTube, Creationism, Evolution, Video, Society, Technology[/tags]

Dumbski and Dumberski

Biology was pretty well my worst subject when I was at school. (Well, if you don’t count sewing. Clearly, nobody does.)

We had a double lesson that involved almost 2 hours of slicing up dead things that reeked of formaldehyde. I was a child for whom the word “all-consuming” could have been coined. (At 11, I could eat at a tenth grade level, as they almost say in the Simpsons.)

But on those mornings, I would be gagging on the smell through my lunch break and couldn’t face eating anything. The formaldehyde, the dissection and the general air of a necromancer’s den (with jars of pickled foetuses and entrails) that pervaded the biology lab combined to act as aversion therapy. I certainly paid zero attention to the content of the lessons and my diagram of the circulation of the blood was in no way distinguishable from my cross-section of an earthworm’s diigestive tract.

However, deepest apologies to my biology teachers, because I do seem to have grasped one crucial point about evolution. (Or thanks to an illustrated library book about evolution, read when I was 10, which has strangely stuck in my mind across the decades, largely thanks to the fascinating series of artist’s impressions of cats developing in the womb.)

The point about evolution is the survival of the organisms that are best fitted to their environment. My moral compass is obviously set differently to the creationists’ but I’m buggared if I can see where there is a value judgement or any reference to morality here. We can see this happening all around us. Cities get built and expand into farmland and wild countryide and those creatures that can live alongside humans (rats, pigeons, cat fleas, houseflies) all do really well. Any creatures that live in scrub or farmland or mountains die out.

The moral issue here is trying to minimise the impact we have on the world – in our own self interest (FeaturelessVoid help us, if we find ourselves having to live on a diet of rats and fleas and marestail.)

The moral issue is clearly not that “fitter” means better or even more fecund (as in the masterly levels of logical absurdity assumed by the likes of the much-loved Dumbski, very well discussed by TW in his last post) It means suited to the environment.

(Just like us, really. Our bodies evolved to survive pretty well before the invention of agriculture. They’ve adapted well to a few thousand years of agriculture, although that’s just a blink of the planet’s eye. We are not very well adapted physically to the environments we are creating for oursleves in advanced industrialisation. For instance, we are straining our bones and tendons through actions like sitting at desks and in mrechanical forms of transport for most of our days; our mechanisms for storing food on our bodies to survive shortages are biting a lot of us in the non-metaphysical physical arse as we store more and more fat.

However, our most advanced adaptation tool – our monstrous brain, with its capacities for language and reasoning and creating things – lets us keep adjusting our environment, so we are still well ahead. The luckiest of us have medicine and enough food to live a lot longer than people did a couple of centuries ago.)

It would take just one major environmental change – a nuclear war, a global plague or a drastic change in our climate – and no matter how numerous our species is now, we’d no longer be “fit.” Our species would be extinct.

Dumbski’s potato famine topic is a good example. The Irish were indeed more prolific breeders, partly because it seems to have long been a Catholic imperative and partly because the potato could feed large families without using a lot of land. (They generally had tiny farms, as a result of the policies of Cromwell and his successors, who had set up Irish inheritance laws in such a way as to break the power base of Catholic leaders. See, I was a fair bit better at History than Biology.) A couple of years of failure of the potato crop and the Irish were dying in their millions.

If the theory of evolution can be applied to the Irsish potato famine – and this attempt to make a match is pushing the argument to the kerbside of insanity – it shows that fecundity and adapting to one environment doesn’t ensure “fitness” in the biological sense. One potato blight organism and the environment suddenly isn’t the same. Add in a few cholera epidemics. The survivors then become those with the capacity to resist starvation over years as well as to be resistant to cholera. Plus the financial and physical means and knowledge to be able escape to somewhere without a famine. A pretty tall order, but the genetic line of those without all these attributes has gone.

There was certainly a massive social and political component to how this played out. One part of which was the general demonisation of the Irish – to which Darwin may have subscribed, if Dumski is right on the evidence.

Just like today, when blaming the victim is one response to the guilt felt about not actually doing anything to help them.

(As an aside, poster campaigns telling us not to give to beggars is one of my favourite examples. It is basically saying – We’ll give money to our needy friends in the advertising agency instead of these homeless alcoholics that you feckless people persist in giving the money for a “cup of tea”).

So Darwin was just a typical example of his age and class then? Not a saint. Well, if you think he’s God or even a lesser saint, that must be a bit disturbing. But I’m buggered if I can see why being prejudiced against the starving Irish in anyway invalidates the theory of Evolution. Do satellites not work because the first rocket scientists were escaped Nazis?

He certainly wasn’t in anyway responsible for the potato famine, nor the British responses to it. And, even if he had been, the theory of evolution was completely blameless.

Are there really biology teachers so inept, anywhere in the world, that they can’t explain to these people the differences between discussing fitness to survive in a given environment and making value judgements about what living creatures deserve to survive?

I can only assume that some of these people have no more understanding of the basic points of evolutionary theory than I have of the complex prohibitions in Leviticus.

They don’t even believe in their Gods enough to credit them with giving humans the intelligence to draw conclusions about the natural universe.

Which makes it doubly unfortunate that they think they’re made in God’s image. They are clearly all worshippers of the Evil One, after all.

When you have no argument

Resort to an ad hominem or strawman.

It really is that simple. This must be such a universal “rule of thumb” that there must be a section in Genesis which tells people to do it. (This would also nicely explain why so many of the offenders are devout theist cranks)

Anyway, to kill a quiet Sunday afternoon (avoiding my research tasks), I visited UncommonStupidity (not an ad hominem, I am not saying their arguments are false because they are idiots – the two are co-incidental) again. Today I was rewarded with a piece about how Darwin was “anti-Irish” (amusingly titled “Darwin and the Irish … again“). If you are doing a course in logical arguments or similar, then check this out. It is an online example of how many logical inconsistencies and fallacies you can cram into a single blog post. I am sure this is a record – even by UncommonStupidity’s standards. This time it is O’Leary taking up the keyboard and he begins:

Apparently, one of the Thumbsmen has claimed that Bill Dembski overstated/misstated (or whatever) Darwin’s contempt for the feckless* Irish, with their endless stream of brats (combined, of course, with his approval of the thrifty and allegedly cautiously procreative Scot).

Which is hilarious, because contempt for the Irish was part and parcel of Darwin’s Brit toffery – a social code everyone in those days understood. The Potato Famine, when so many thousands starved to death within easy reach of abundant food exported from Ireland, would be incomprehensible apart from it. Indeed, I heard its fell echoes a century later, as a child in a far distant land.

No, Dembski did not misquote Darwin. Darwin meant exactly what he said. The problem is that what Darwin meant is incompatible with the theory he is famed for advancing.

With a start like that, you just know it is going to be good. Obviously O’Leary (good old Irish name, eh?) has a special insight into what Darwin actually thought and, equally, finds it valid to view his opinions from the comfort of 21st century society and our values. Maybe his intelligent designer provides this insight… Anyway, this line of nonsense progresses to:

Either natural selection produces survival of the fittest (Spencer’s term, quoted with approval by Darwin as a suitable description of the main point of his theory) or it does not. But Darwin believed – irrationally – that the Irish were both most likely to breed and succeed and less fit, and therefore a menace.

Wow. I told it was a good start. Now, the actual opinions of Darwin aside, “survival of the fittest” is not the “scientific” way of discussing evolution. It is a buzz word people use to try and explain things to the layperson. It happens in science all the time. For example, e=mc2 is an approximation of the proper theory because the full details are fairly complicated.

Another “failing” of the theistic argument is the combination of Science and Morality. A scientific theory does not have to be “morally” acceptable to an arbritrary social system. The two talk about different spheres of existence. If Darwin was contemptous of the Irish – so what?

O’Leary seems to really miss the point about what natural selection is and how it works, and sadly the potatoe famine acts as an example that artificial circumstances can allow large populations which are not “fit” to grow. (All this is comensurate with the science)

All in all (I can not be bothered addressing the other logical inconsistencies), this is another example of UncommonStupidity trying to show “evolution” is incorrect because Darwin was not a nice person. Sadly, theists are used to an idea hinging on a single individual’s values and remaining unchanged for thousands of years. In science this really is not the case. Will they ever get the idea?

[tags]Darwin, Evolution, Science, Philosophy, Logic, Intelligent Design, ID, History, Creationists, Creationist Fools, Woo, Crackpot[/tags]

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.


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?

Dawkins Delusions – Deluded Reviewers?

The current issue of New Scientist has a review of “The Dawkins Delusion” by Alister McGrath. Now we have looked at McGrath in the past (here and here, and this has also been looked at on Nullfidian’s blog) so there is no pressing need to revisit that aspect – suffice it to say McGrath is confused on several issues and wraps up what is basically one big ad hominem into a book. Sadly for the theists, criticising Dawkins personally does little to undermine the points he makes. Even atheists find him personally annoying but still agree with him.

While the review, by Brian Appleyard, is some what soft on McGrath, and actually says very little about the book itself it is reasonable enough. There are a few odd paragraphs such as:

To say that there is no evidence for God is merely, therefore, an interpretation, justified in one context but quite meaningless in another. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of something, but it is by no means clear that that something is, in fact, nothing. Rather, it seems something of a startling intelligibility.

This strikes me as an argument from personal incredulity if ever there was one. In a nutshell this is saying everywhere he looks he sees amazing things, because he finds it too incredible for this something to come from what he sees as nothing, there must be a creator. It begs the question who created the creator, unless of course there is the anticipated special pleading that unlike everything else in the universe, the creator did not need creating…

The bit in Mr Apleyard’s review which did amaze (and somewhat annoy me) came at the end:

Any view that religion is the source of all evil and atheism the origin of none is plainly absurd when confronted with the largely atheist bloodletting of the 20th century.

Blimey, what on Earth can this mean? While it is fairly obvious that calling religion the source of all evil is an exaggeration, it remains the case that “Religion” creates a set of circumstances where one side can demonise the others and act with “divine support.” To paraphrase the old saying “Religion is what allows good people to do bad things,” without religion they are just accepted as being bad people.

Now the crucial part is this supposed “largely atheist bloodletting” of the last century. Now, I am not a poor historian but I am at a loss as to what this may refer. The genocides which marked the end of the century were certainly not atheistic in origin, nor were the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Catholic Nazis. The best I can come up with is the oblique usage of Stalin’s terrors and the killing fields of Cambodia – yet as far as I recall neither were carried out in the name of Atheism. Neither targeted “theists” per se. While both were carried out by overtly “Atheistic” governments this misses the major point Dawkins made in his book, and numerous famous atheists have made since.

People carry out atrocities in the name of their religion (Bosnia, Somalia, the Middle East etc). People de-humanise their opponents through religious rhetoric. When Atheists do things like this, they just do them out of being bad people.

One common theme amongst the theists, and religious apologetics, seems to be this misunderstanding about atheism. This is why God is defended by attacks on Dawkins (remember he is not the Atheist Pope), Creationism is promoted by strawmen attacks on Evolution, and theism is defended by creating an image that Atheism is just a different religion.

As I keep pointing out, I can not speak for others but when I fill forms in which ask for my religion, I invariably write “none” as I have no religion. If some one asks do I believe in God, then “no,” as I am an atheist…. 🙂

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…

. . . then why are there still humans?

...then why are there still humans?
…then why are there still humans?,
originally uploaded by Alun Salt.

Another great Creationist trading card from Alun Salt. At the start of the year I made a post about some of his other trading cards and this seems to be one of the newer ones.

These are funny and really well put together – it would almost be worth printing them out and trying to get WoTC to make a game out of it!