Showing posts from February, 2011

I love a good creationist bashing

H/T Jerry Coyne : Certified charlatan William Dembski of the ironically named Discovery Institute decided to step into the study of ants (which I learned is called "myrmecology") with this peculiar statement : Colonies of ants, when they make tracks from one colony to another minimize path-length and thereby also solve the Steiner Problem (see “ Ants Build Cheapest Network “). So what does this mean in evolutionary terms? In ID terms, there’s no problem — ants were designed with various capacities, and this either happens to be one of them or is one acquired through other programmed/designed capacities. On Darwinian evolutionary grounds, however, one would have to say something like the following: ants are the result of a Darwinian evolutionary process that programmed the ants with, presumably, a genetic algorithm that enables them, when put in separate colonies, to trace out paths that resolve the Steiner Problem. In other words, evolution, by some wei

A thorough beatdown of the fine-tuning argument

This video by Skepchic is an excellent response to the old fine-tuning canard. She's very thorough, clear, and concise: p.s. – If you're losing sleep at night wondering where I went, well, I haven't had much time for writing lately. More to come soon !

Oklahoma legislature strikes down "science" bill It looks like Oklahoma can do something right. Rep. Sally Kern, one of the most annoying Christian Creationist nincompoops in the state, had authored a bill with vague language about allowing "other" scientific theories to be taught alongside evolution. The bill didn't make it out of committee. Hey, I'm 100% fine with that, as long as we both agree that a scientific theory unifies observable facts through falsifiable predictions. That would of course completely rule out pseudoscientific garbage like Intelligent Design and the worst of them all, Young Earth Creationism. I just don't get it. It's exasperating. While science denial does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with Christianity, there's no denying that the two are familiar bedfellows, and have been throughout history. Is it really that threatening to one's identity to acknowledge that our species didn't just spontaneously pop into existence, and in

Evolution is a godless process

Jerry Coyne has a great post up today over at WEIT about the absolute absence of evidence of any sort of teleology in evolution. This apparently gets some believers up in arms because they want to believe that humans are the apex of evolution, that God put us here on purpose because otherwise life is pointless and they might as well jump off a bridge (must be depressing to be a believer). I recommend the full article here , but here are some quotes that jumped out at me: As NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott recounts, the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” led to pushback from the faithful: As one Christian said to me, defining evolution as “unsupervised” and “impersonal” implied to many Americans that “God had nothing to do with it and life has no meaning.” Reflecting these public concerns, two distinguished theologians, Cornell’s Huston Smith and Notre Dame’s Alvin Plantinga, wrote a polite letter to NABT’s board of directors, asking it to delete the two words “unsupe

I don't get atheist organizations

There's a group called "Tulsa Atheists" here in town, and whenever I see pics of their events I'm always slightly amused at both the piss-poor attendance and the near-total absence of young people. It seems less like an organization and more like a gaggle of buddies. Skepticism . Now that's something I can get behind. Secularism . Yes. Bring it. These are positive ideologies that non-believers can get behind, because it makes sense: atheism is not an ideology, but an outcome of skeptical, logical inquiry which rejects poorly supported metaphysical claims; secularism promotes the separation of church and state to preserve religious freedom for all, as well as the development of science-based knowledge. Atheism is just a null. You know the sayings – it's like "off" is a TV channel, or like not collecting stamps is a hobby, or like bald is a hair color. Having an atheist group is like having a book club for people who don't read books. I mean, w

Here's what I really think about conservatism

I found a nice little essay over on Huffpo called " What Conservatives Really Want ", which nicely summarizes why I'm a political liberal. The article's a bit inflammatory (as is to be expected from the title alone), but it still captures some important ideas that reflect my own thinking. Some choice quotes: Budget deficits are a ruse, as we've seen in Wisconsin, where the governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement. Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the president has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives. Fun fact: in 2001, George W. Bush in one year turned a record surplus into a record deficit. How did he accomplish that histor

A thought on "faith"

I happened upon a Facebook argument in which a Christian asserted the old, "You put your faith in the wisdom of men; I put mine in the Word of God" canard. This has always been a peculiar argument to me. Short of any Road-to-Damascus revelations or burning bushes, people learn about God from their parents or friends. They are told by other people that the Bible is the word of God, that God is real, that God listens to their prayers. They're told that he knows their thoughts and that He'll punish them for their transgressions. In other words, I've yet to meet (or even hear second hand) of anyone who came to know the "truth" of Christianity independently of sociocultural influences. Just like any idea, it's transmitted from one person to the next. So when people claim they put their faith in God, they're full of it – the truth is that they're not just putting faith in other people, but – because these are unfalsifiable claims – putting bli

I love this guy

Absolute truth

 H/T to Bud at Dead Logic for this gem of stupidity: Aside from the bountiful idiocy of Biblical literalism and young-Earth creationism present in the video, one of the lines caught my attention: their claim of teaching believers how to respond to when someone says there is no absolute truth. All too often, these arguments get misconstrued by believers: Oh, so you claim there's no such a thing as absolute truth? Well, gotcha! You're claiming an absolute truth when you say that! In fact, I looked it up on the Way of the Master website, and that's exactly what they say : Those who say that there are no absolutes are often very adamant about their belief. If they say that they are absolutely sure, then they are wrong because their own statement is an absolute. If they are not 100 percent sure, then there is a chance that they are wrong and

Recommended Sunday reading

There are a couple of blog posts I came across today that I think are very much worth a look: The first is from Bud over at Dead Logic , called Four Columns . It's a superb essay that marvelously illustrates some of the epistemic concepts that I talked about recently in my Knowing What We Know posts and that Tristan of Advocatus Atheist discussed in a recent essay about the God hypothesis . The second is from venerable gnu atheist Jerry Coyne, in which he discusses the rise of Scientology and how it parallels the rise of other faiths, including Christianity.


I . This is how it all started I was raised Christian, but had never been particularly devout. When you're young, you just do as your parents do – and my parents were "twice a year Christians", usually only going to church on Christmas and Easter. But when we moved to a new house up the street from a large Presbyterian church, my parents began attending regularly. My mom expressed some guilt that she hadn't been more vigilant getting my brother and I involved in the church. I attended sporadically out of a desire to do something "moral", but I wasn't particularly serious about it. Around the time when I was 14, my brother had been attending another church more regularly. I didn't hear much about it, but man did I ever hear about God from him. He would provoke me in arguments, trying to show that I wasn't a real Christian. Mostly, his provocations just left me annoyed and frustrated. But one week, I'd had a big fight with my dad, and was

Are science and faith in conflict? (Yes.)

There's an initiative going through the House right now to make Charles Darwin's birthday a national holiday. I'm sure it has zero change of passing given the Bible-thumping conservative freakshow masquerading as a noble band of intrepid do-gooders that now commands a majority in the House, but with all that Darwin's theory has given us ,  it will be a damn shame that dogmatically driven ignorance will likely trump a move to honor one of the most important scientists in human history. Oh, plus there's the pesky fact that the bill is authored by the only open atheist in congress. Grrrr, those evil atheists! Science has a history of stepping on the toes of religious belief. Let's not forget that it wasn't until the 1990s that the Catholic church finally got around to apologizing for persecuting Galileo. Right now, some 40% of Americans are strict creationists – they don't think evolution ever happened. Nevermind that Darwinian evolution is the unifying t

Kickin' it old school

I have no idea why, but for some reason I wanted to listen to Jars of Clay tonight. Their style is so completely opposite to the stuff I listen to now, but I had listened to them often during my teen years, and it just so happens that the peak of their popularity in the 90s were my most fervent years as a Christian. I might be a metalhead now, but for most of my teens I was all about the trendy acoustic pop rock. Anyway, I listened to some of their old stuff courtesy of MySpace, which apparently still exists. It just got me reflecting on my whole experience – I went from being indifferent about religion to being incredibly passionate about it. I didn't even like the word "religion"; it was a relationship with God. But some things started bugging me. Questions that demanded answers . And as my search for those answers left me even more confused, I became disillusioned. I felt my faith slipping away, and I didn't know how to save it. I was doing everything I could th

While I'm on the subject...

Hot on the heels of my previous post, Tristan Vick has a superb essay at Advocatus Atheist  on the utility of the God hypothesis . It's well worth a read.

Knowing What We Know, part 2: "Congruence"

In part 1 , I talked about how the raw sensory data that we take in is categorized by our brains into patterns,  how sometimes we make the mistake of imposing patterns on the randomness of nature, and how methodological naturalism is a means for explaining the patterns we see by producing falsifiable mechanisms with predictive utility. This gives us a reliable understanding of the world – we can predict, for example, that objects will fall when we let go of them. We can predict how fast they'll accelerate and how wind resistance will affect the rate of descent. All knowledge attained through methodological naturalism is provisional , because we don't know everything. There may be some unknown law of physics that, starting tomorrow, will cause the force of gravity to work in reverse. But based on empirical observation with predictive utility, we can make a valid provisional assumption that such a change is highly implausible. NOMA Jerry Coyne writes a lot about "acco

That old "something from nothing" thing

PZ has a post up where he links to an article by physicist Ethan Siegel that explains how, in the quantum world, something comes from nothing all the time. I'm a bit mixed on these kinds of things. What they demonstrate is that the Newtonian chain of causality that we observe on what I suppose we could call the "human-intuitive scale" is not applicable on the quantum scale. Quantum things behave by a bizarre set of rules, and since the quantum world is what makes our world, it gives us a greater insight into how the universe actually works – human intuition be damned. William Lane Craig has said that the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument ("Everything that begins to exist has a cause") is based on the "metaphysical intuition that something cannot come from nothing" [1] . Unfortunately for Craig's argument, quantum mechanics demonstrates that what we assume to be intuitively true is not always an accurate picture of reality. My p

Bill O'Reilly recites the God of the Gaps

Bill O'Reilly has made a video in which he smugly hands the smackdown to us ignorant atheists for criticizing his silly comment about the supposed mystery of the tides being evidence for God's existence. His scathing rebuttal: You can't explain it, so God did it. Checkmate, atheists! What's funny is that we of course do know how the moon got there, how the Earth got there (err... here ), how the sun got there, how the galaxy got there. We know how life evolved and we're on the cusp of knowing how it began in Earth's warm primordial oceans.  Like any creationist, O'Reilly can always push God back one more gap, but that just makes God more and more irrelevant. Mystery is not evidence. p.s. – On a side note, I'm rather encouraged by the ratio of "likes" to "dislikes".

Kepler space telescope spots five Earth-sized planets Previous technology has limited us to only detected very large extrasolar planets, like gas giants, but now we're finally starting to be able to get a sense of how many Earth-sized planets there are. NASA scientists have announced Kepler has spotted five planets about the size of Earth, orbiting stars in our galaxy. These planets are orbiting in what is known as the habitable zone, which puts them at a distance from their suns where liquid water could exist. Liquid water is a key ingredient for life to form. The Kepler telescope has spotted a total of 54 planets within various stars' habitable zones and over 1,200 total planets. The discoveries still need to be confirmed, but given that we've still only explored a minute fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, it seems less and less likely that we're alone.

Quote of the day, from PZ Myers

"[There] is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it's actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It's a consequence, not a cause." Thank you! Geez. Believers are all too often under the impression that atheism is a belief system from which we derive a presumably naturalistic outlook. It's the other way around: atheism is an inevitable outcome of a worldview in which claims to knowledge must be rooted in empirical evidence and reason.