A Deeply Seeded Misunderstanding

Whenever I feel listless, a passing depression, I can always go to AiG to inflame my passions (the floweriest way to reaffirm my living, if only to be angry at people purposefully misrepresenting my views, and the views of my peers).

To wit, this article that misses no opportunity to misrepresent the views of a very large swathe of the scientific community. Claiming evolution is a god of the gaps, and claiming that a high school biology professor would be stumped by a question as simple as “How does biology work?” To be fair, that last point may be less a show of weakness in the Theory of Evolution so much as it is a weakness of the public education system in certain regions. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, just incidental.

To claim evolution is a god of the gaps shows either blatant willful ignorance or malicious intent; no one can live in the 21st century and display such a wild misunderstanding of evolution, and of the scientific field in general (though I recognize that I am being optimistic at best). The author draws frequent parallels to common “god of the gaps” terminology, repeatedly claiming that a professor of microbiology will answer any query regarding evolution with “evolution did it,” an obvious parody of “god did it.”

I recognize that there are many well respected scientists who will say that there was no supernatural agent involved in Creation, as a strong prediction rather than a hypothesis, but it seems even to me that the fairest conversation between the greater scientific community and the Creation science community would start and end with “Why do you fight science? If your God did it, will we not find his fingerprints as we move closer and closer to the answers we seek?”

The Creation Science movement had their hypothesis written for them several hundred years ago, and have decided that there is no room for improvement, studying all evidence through that lens, trying to come to a conclusion that was already written. Science does make hypotheses, and even makes strong predictions, but evidence that does not fit the hypothesis is (ideally) not bent to fit. The hypothesis is modified, and experimentation continues. Humans, of course, will attempt to justify their own hypothesis and bend evidence to make it fit, but that highlights the importance of blind peer review.

I think a fairly pure hypothesis, without the biases on display here, is this: “Life likely began via a natural process of which we are currently unaware.” Now we try to find what the process is. If we find God, then God it is. If we find another process, it is very easy to predict the line of the YEC; God kicked it off. When we find the process that started biology, they will claim God created chemistry as a precursor to biology. If we find out the mechanism of how the first matter formed, we will be told that God created the laws of physics to allow chemistry. When we find out how the laws of physics formed… Well, I don’t know where the goalpost will move to, but I will likely be dead by this time, and smarter people than I will be carrying this debate on.

That is the ultimate weakness of the YEC; the dogged reliance on a bronze age text, and the constantly moving goalposts make it seem almost like children who constantly change the rules to make sure they win. Now we enter territory that is almost quintessentially American; the idea of the flip flopper. No, I am not accusing the YEC to do so, that would be silly.

Evolution is the core of a flip-flopper, and that is not an insult. Based on what you know, you make a call. Then if the information available changes, so does the call. This is not a weakness, this is prudent. If you stand by something in opposition of all evidence, “on principle,” you have erred greatly–and yet, as the documentary “Outfoxed” showed constantly, changing your vote as information changes is apparently shameful to certain demographics in the United States. I believe, truly I do, that young earth creationism has taken root in the United States because of the fertile soil that praises strong predictions, and for some reason demonizes changing your mind. Science seldom makes blind strong predictions; you need evidence. Science is a shifting field, admittedly, because evidence is constantly changing. Scientists are getting better, getting smarter, coming up with ever more ingenious experiments and tests… To compare science in the 21st century to Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species” (as the YEC movement often does) is incredibly disingenuous. We know more than Darwin did, we have better data collection than Darwin did, and as the saying often goes, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” We do not take Darwin’s work wholesale, we have improved on his ideas, refined the field. We have, to use the American colloquialism, flip flopped–but we did it because the evidence required it of us.

And the fact that the YEC will stand on a single hypothesis against all evidence… That is the true weakness.

There is one line that shows the true misdirection of the AiG writer more clearly than any other. “Evolution makes no useful contribution to scientific and technological advances.”

You see, the YEC will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, is the mechanism that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. They will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, at play when a new strain of a deadly virus comes into play.

Adaptation is evolution, and I still can’t even begin to understand how the mind of anyone can so fully ignore the very idea of evolution that they are completely blind to the fact that they admit that evolution is the mechanism by which every living thing operates.

The only part they disagree with, it seems to me, is where it all started. As science moves closer and closer to the answer to that question, it is only a matter of time until we watch them pick up the goalpost and move it again. And again. And again.

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Intelligent Lack of Understanding (Or Honesty)

More days, more AiG.

One expects creationists and Creation Scientists to dance around language where it comes to evolution, but so often it comes at the cost of either sounding like they don’t understand evolution, or using language that is meaningless if the listener doesn’t understand evolution. Or, perhaps more maliciously, relies on the ignorance of the user to even make the semblance of a point.

To wit, the linked article.

“But are there such things as beneficial mutations? In short, no, but let me explain.” Alright, friend–explain away. She goes on to detail how an improved resistance to antibiotics in bacteria often results in something something metabolism issues. She explains that the improvements come at a cost to survival in some other way. She explains that in the absence of antibiotics, nonresistant bacteria actually survive better.

This is the perfect example of evolution. Of survival of the fittest.

The thing is, antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t tend to grow in environments free of antibiotics. And that is exactly what evolution would predict. If every step of evolution was like a level up in World of Warcraft, where you get survival bonuses right across the board, every species would be perfect. But they aren’t.

Survival of the fittest, evolution in action, is all about small improvements that help you survive in the environment you are in. A Tibetan (the subject of another evolution-centric post I have made) won’t have the same survival traits that someone from Jamaica would.

Perhaps more real world examples are in order. Take the Cheetah; evolved almost purely for speed. The drawbacks is that they have very low stamina compared to other species, and sacrifice maneuverability due to the way their hip and shoulder joints work. They didn’t just get “Faster, stronger, better,” there was an obvious cost and an obvious benefit. They are not everywhere in the world, they evolved to fit a niche in the flat plains of Africa. Their survival traits would be worthless in the mountains for example.

Segue that into a mountain goat, which tend to be rather slow and comically awkward at times–but they are able to climb mountains in ways the boggle the mind. The thing is, if they lived in the same environment as a cheetah, in Africa, the goat would be eaten hilariously quickly. That is evolution.

MRSA doesn’t need to survive among non-resistant bacteria to be considered an evolutionary step. They have evolved to become the fittest survivor in hospitals, where antibiotics are used frequently.

The author of the linked article does not want to admit that, though. “One step forward for person A is one step back in situation B” is still evolution, even if they don’t want to use the word.

Perhaps even more egregious, then, is the paragraph where she states that while there are mutations that make people immune to HIV, and while we don’t know of any directly related drawbacks to being immune to HIV, they must be there because God. And I don’t even know where to go with that.

I know I am preaching to a group of people who mostly accept evolution, but I really wish I could just… I don’t know. Discuss what so many creationists think evolution is. They have said, frequently (and in some cases directly from the mouth of the prophet, Ken Ham), “That’s not evolution, that’s adaptation.” As though that is some kind of defense. As though adaptation is not the cornerstone of evolution. They are dancing around the words, which is fine in some cases, but it works because they actively campaign to make sure children (and by extension adults) don’t know any better.

“In addition, the detrimental effects may not be detrimental enough to affect the overall fitness of the individual.”

To paraphrase: “It isn’t really negative, but I really have a vested interest in convincing anyone who will listen that evolution isn’t real.” Oh, it might sound like I am being callous, but to fully appreciate the scope of it you have to look at the context.

“There are people who are immune to HIV, but it isn’t really evolution because there are drawbacks that are so small I can’t really quantify them.” That is focusing on the wrong part of that story so hard that I think I felt a gust of wind purely from the effort of it.

“Again, the mutations only improve a person’s chance for survival in a given environment (external or internal), such as if the person is exposed to HIV or cancer develops within a person’s body.”

More paraphrasing: “Yes, there is evolution, because evolution predicts that exact behaviour, but I choose to call it by a different name.”

And here is the worst quote. This quote is the true showing, the true face, of the creation scientist unmaked.

“… [F]or one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill””

No.

No.

No.

No.

Evolution is not necessarily an uphill process.

Mutation can certainly undo other beneficial mutations.

Conditions change.

Imagine a gene that makes me immune to a disease that was naturally wiped out 20 million years ago. When I evolve a new function (maybe my eardrums are 10% more sensitive or something, thus allowing me to hear the intruder in my house, thus allowing me to fend him off, thus allowing me to procreate), perhaps I lose that immunity. But you know what? I am now better equipped to survive in my current environment than I would have been with my less sensitive eardrum and immunity to a disease that no longer exists.

This happens all the time. Think of Darwin’s finches; when their beaks changed size and shape, it may have made them unable to process nutrients (ie: eat) as well on their parents’ home island, but that means absolutely nothing to them on their new island, because their beak is awesome at eating stuff on this island. They have lost viability in an irrelevant environment, but they have certainly improved their survival chances in their current environment.

The repetitive use of “in their current environment” is important, because it is no less evolution if you lose something that was no longer undergoing active selection pressure.

It is by this mechanism that land dwelling animals lost their gills, obviously great for surviving water based environments, in favor of better lungs. Better lungs granting longer stamina, less stress on the heart, less stress on the body. So what, we can’t breathe under water any more? I am glad I don’t live underwater, and I would still certainly call that an improvement.

Absolute Truths

Absolute truths are absolute, unless they are inconvenient, then we can throw them out (temporarily) and pick them back up–like setting aside jewelry before a fight.

I was getting a little bit jittery for Creationist Propaganda, since it is currently the off-season for Creation Today’s broadcasts, so I just decided to hit up some random articles on AiG to get those creative juices flowing. I was not disappointed.

This particular article details the fight between absolute Creationists (we were created as we are, and that’s an end to it) and evolutionary Creationists (God created the universe billions of years ago, and then set the pieces to moving).

It is almost comical to read the AiG writer, who toes the line of calling the Scientist in question “racist” but never actually crosses, for his handling of Neanderthals. Reasons to Believe (RtB) posits that Neanderthals were created as animals before Adam and Eve, and thus likely didn’t have souls. AiG argues that of course they had souls, because they could use tools and communicate, and for some reason that counts as (this term was new to me) “image-of-God behaviour”.

AiG even posits that Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with humans, meaning they accept the evolutionary worldview of human development with the only exception being timeline. They even argue that you can see the fingerprint on our DNA left by breeding with Denisovans! Of course, the survival of the fittest, advantageous traits being passed on idea at play here is not evolution! It is adaptation! Which is totally different, guys! Because we can’t compromise; once we’ve told you that the sky is purple, the sky stays purple.

The thing is that this seems almost a tacit admission that non-humans interbred with humans, though I feel like I can smell their counter-argument coming; Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Humans share a Biblical Kind, a kind of superspecies that exists to make their scientific models work–and it did hurt me a little, to write “scientific” in that context. The ultimate concession, a line that would actually have found a warm, friendly home in any paper refuting young earth creationism, comes in the statement: “Neanderthals must, based on genetic evidence, have either been cousins, cohabitants, or ancestors of anatomically modern humans.”

We have a genetically distinct species as an ancestor of a more modern genetically distinct species, but it’s not evolution, guys! The fact that you just described one of the major foundations of evolution be damned (literally)!

The thing is this; AiG is willing to slip into evolutionary talk as long as they never say the word evolution, and generally only so long as they are refuting someone they don’t like (admitting humans share a kind with other species comes dangerously close to admitting we are just another animal, but maybe I’m the crazy one).

The other thing they lean on is not just short time frames for this human genetic distinction, but incredibly short time frames. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other ancient human species (ancient according to that dirty “science” crowd), developed, lived, and went extinct within the last 3500 years or so. Their evidence for this is “ignoring any and all dating methods”, stating that “fossilization is always rapid,” and that “The tower of Babel.” If that last one seems a little bit decontextualized, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. That is a quote; all genetic diversity in humans happened only after Babel. For some reason. In fact, all diversity is “easily understood as the natural consequence of the dispersion from the Tower of Babel.” I decided to use their exact words; the problem I have when anyone says something is so easily understood that they needn’t explain it is that sometimes I don’t understand–and finding an explanation can be difficult sometimes.

I suppose I understand to a degree, but only in a wildly theoretical, ridiculously impractical world view. Since the Tower of Babel probably instantly teleported humans to the ends of the Earth– I mean, I doubt they just started migrating slowly, otherwise how would there have been fully realized civilizations that bear absolutely no resemblance to Judaism in North and South America millennia ago? They needed time to set up shop, build some truly impressive structures, generate new religions, forget their roots (And that would have been hard, since the first post Babel generation had heard the voice of God), and then meet with their new Christian Overlords, all within a thousand years or so.

I understand that humans work hard, but what I want to know is this; how is it that Judaism was born in the Middle East, survived the flood in the Middle East, and after all humans were scattered to the furthest reaches of the Earth, it was only the Jewish people in the Middle East who remembered their God? Every single other faction magically forgetting him? That seems… Improbable to me.

I will close with a statement that boils the absurdity down as far as I can:

“Humans were created, fully formed and free from the need of evolution, 6000 years ago. The fact that we are arguing for large scale genetic diversity and massive changes through adaptation don’t affect the first sentence for some reason.”

Cheers.

Can God and Evil Co-exist?

So I was watching a speech/lecture given by Mark Spence, who works for the Living Waters ministry. In it, he speaks about the conscience that is placed in all humans by God (You can read the preamble and watch the video here.)

During his lecture, he brings up the story of a little girl who went missing. Investigation found that she had been kidnapped, raped, and then tied up and buried alive. The story was truly difficult to listen to, but the way he parleys it into his next point is the part that staggered me.

“Don’t you want justice? Doesn’t it boil up inside of you?!

“That is your conscience, given to you by God!

“And if we have always felt that this type of thing is wrong, that means it did not evolve.”

I… Ok. Ok. Let’s decide where to start with this. These three statements contain so much wrong.

Have to calm myself down.

The first problem; he says the conscience is universal, but where was the conscience of the rapist/murderer? Did he know what he did was wrong?

The third line, there, is an unholy (ehehehe) amalgamation of evolution and religion. Of course our morals could have evolved; they had billions of years to evolve group dynamics and relative morality before there was anything even resembling a human on the Earth.

Your statement, that it had to come into existence fully formed, already assumes that humans were created all at once. There is no science that speaks to this idea.

Why is your Bible an absolute? Can you attest to its having been written by God? Can you attest even to the Pentateuch being written by Moses? Because I can attest to its having been finalized by a group of humans in the fourth century. How many Gospels were thrown out? What about the Christians between say the year 100 and 397? For those 297 years, did they accidentally read blasphemous Bibles that contained things that were later thrown out? Why did God wait until 360 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection to have a Canonized Bible?

If we are going down that rabbit hole, I really have to ask a question, one I have asked before, one I will ask again: If Adam sinned right out of the gate, and Jesus didn’t come until some 4000 years after Creation (by their own timeline). What was God doing for those 4000 years? Those people all just went to hell?

The reason I went down this train of thought is because things are not so clean and pristine as I’m being sold. The Bible is not a clean work, free of human corruption. And there are many pieces of provenance that show many of the hands that have touched the Bible.

Why does your messy conglomerate of books count as “Absolute, objective morality?”

If a book was written by a man, then edited by a second, then a third, then a fourth, repeat for x, you would question the authenticity of the book. If that man’s hand was Moses, apparently “Oh yes, absolutely correct,” is valid… But if that hand was “Dawkins”, you would ask a thousand questions. And when you have standards that only apply to your opponents, you should think about those standards.

Now, I realize as a human that I am flawed, and I have double standards–but I do try to resolve them where I find them. The issue with the double standards of “The Bible” versus “Literally anything else,” is that the double standard is institutionalized, codified, subscribed to, and referenced as “A good thing,” by many in the creationist movement…

Why is that? How is that?

Sorry, this got a little scatterbrained. I just don’t understand how it is so easy to write off certain questions for those in the Creationist movement, while levying those same complaints against their opponents, and when I try to follow that thread through my head I end up all over the place.

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 4)

And now we conclude our rebuttal of this article, which is purportedly about what makes New Atheists stay up at night, sweating in fear of the Truth of Religion (I think).

The fourth section lasted several paragraphs before tripping over a line that shows a misunderstanding of general atheism by the author. I suppose this isn’t surprising, and his misunderstanding is slightly less militant than Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) who seems to think that Atheism is a path whose inevitable conclusion is killing and raping your family. 

I think the misunderstanding starts with the author’s assertion that “Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human.” I think he takes that to be a validation, that humans are religious because … Reasons? The evolutionary psychology of Religion is an incredibly interesting field, and while we certainly cannot say with definitive conclusion what caused religion to spawn across time and distance as it has, we have very compelling theories as to why religion may be built into the human brain.

The issue I have, then, is that the author claims “Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question,” as though he knows the mind of the atheist.

I have not had questions about this very idea for a long time–I do not even recall the source from which I took a compelling answer. The odd thing is that the author seems to be so sure that religion is part of the human experience, yet ignores the fact that the staggering number of religions and superstitions seem to indicate a disparate beginning. Certainly this author writes from the standpoint of a Christian, but there are many hundreds or thousands of religions, most forgotten now, that predate even the earliest records of Judaism. Considering Adam and Eve are supposed to have regularly talked with God, starting only shortly after creation, it is odd that there would be religions older than such ideas.

Now, we have to consider geography in looking for religious roots and histories. I cannot say I am a historian, just a layperson who reads about this stuff frequently, but why should North American religions have so little in common with middle Eastern religions which again have so little in common with sub-Saharan religions?

The Creation narrative shoots itself in the foot, especially considering how recently all of humankind is supposed to have been in close geographical proximity (more recently than 4400 years ago, according to young earth creationists). But let’s give the author the benefit of a doubt and assume he does not subscribe to young earth views–I would still ask him why he would think religion is universal because of his particular God, and not because of any other mechanism? Certainly, evolution gives us a good reason for having many different religions (and a reason for having religions at all), but why should an all-knowing Creator-God spawn as many religions as there are peoples?

And I am not going to assert this question is awkward to you; my mother, a devout Catholic, answered that question for me in an instant and without hesitation. Her answer was not based in doctrine, but her answer was at least logically sound.

“Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves.” I’ve answered this indirectly (and directly) during this series, but that statement is objectively false. Rallying around an idea larger than we are allows us to form strong tribal bonds. Even the ideas of theism (rather than just the idea of theism) even crafts rules almost hilarious transparent to scrutiny that would create group relationships. A Christian sect that preaches love and tolerance will gain members who wish to love and tolerate, and they will defend each other, give each other food and money. Charity, a core doctrine of the Church, gains additional members and gains members powerfully.

Pagan cults? Even fertility cults? They create a strong endorphin and dopamine reaction within its members, a simulation of love (or just ‘love’ as the case may be) between its members, again creating strong tribal bonds.

The idea of having a ruler chosen by a higher power, such as Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and Middle Ages Kings, gives the people following that leader a reason to swear fealty. Many who have sworn fealty to a single person will defend each other, defend the tribe, defend the border.

No, Mr Author, this is not a question I am afraid of. The evolutionary benefits of religion are far reaching and apparent.

“If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?” If your version of giving value to a life is standing in opposition of rights for homosexuals, picketing abortion clinics that serve women who have been raped, kill doctors in the name of … Not killing? If those are the things that give meaning to your life, I think the idea of love and tolerance have flown over your head. If you think your religion of love and tolerance allows for racism, or hatred, then it is not a religion of love and tolerance.

Oh, I realize that not all Christians spew bigoted hatred, and that is why I don’t preach for the abolition of religion. That being said, I do have to admit that I do not have a clear idea of how we can make the world a better place in the context of religion. The Bible belt, with its latent racism, weird cult offshoots of your religion (Warren Jeffs still creeps me out something fierce)… There’s so much wrong with the world.

There are things wrong with Atheists, too — I won’t say there is something wrong with Atheism, because not believing in God is an incredibly wide net. Most atheists don’t believe in atheism, as many religious adherents tend to frame it–that is a uniquely religious view of atheism–we just don’t believe in God one way or another. While the metaphor isn’t perfect, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have each posited in their own way that “I don’t play tennis, therefore should I identify as ‘a-tennisist’?” Like non tennis players simply don’t think about tennis, many atheists simply do not think about God in any of His/Her/Their incarnations.

Obviously I do not fall under that umbrella; I think about it in that I am here writing. Many religious adherents have stated they believe atheists “hate” God, or some variation of that thought, but I don’t hate God–I just think the general conception of God has so many faults I cannot believe in Him or Her as He or She stands. Too many humans have given God too many different and wildly incongruous personality traits over too many years for me to believe that God is timeless and eternal and wholly separate from Earth. There are too many inconsistencies in the Bible, for all Kent and Eric Hovind have tried to convince me otherwise (even a cursory reading of only the most popular parts of the Bible can find several inconsistencies).

“More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind.” No, Author — why must you ascribe thoughts to me that I have never had? I am not panicked any more than you are by the fact that there are people who do not believe as you believe–I just despair that there is so much sadness and inequality, I despair that there are those that are starving not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of human decency. I despair that there are sweatshops in far too many countries, and that so many people so readily support them in the quest for a dollar. If there is a flaw in my vision of morality, please tell me and I will attempt to rectify. I do not believe my morality is flawed merely because a 9th century BC shepherd didn’t think of it first, nor because a 1st century Ascetic did not preach them on a mountain (though, to a degree, he did what with the Golden Rule and all).

What I want is not to press my ideals upon others–what I want is a dialogue whose goal is purely to identify how to improve the human condition, to improve happiness worldwide. I understand there are those who would want to stand by their prejudices and racism, but here is my rule of thumb in a nutshell (if you can find fault in my method, I will attempt to improve it):

Homosexuality, whose happiness does it damage? Strict religious devotees. Why does it damage their happiness? Because someone told them to.

Strict religious devotees, whose happiness do they damage? Homosexuals. Why does it damage their happiness? Because a 4th century book told those devotees to treat other humans as less than human (or at least as less than themselves).

Which seems more grounded in the ideals of the Golden Rule?

This is obviously a small scale application, but I do hope it paints a picture of how we could use a series of similar questions to create a morality that maximizes universal happiness.

Then again, maybe I am just a crazy optimist…

That wraps up the article. I think I have, through the last four parts of this series, tackled his most egregious statements he made as to my own personal beliefs. I think his article shows a closed mindedness, and being as made simple statements that a conversation with even a single atheist could have proven false, I feel as though the author is as set in his beliefs as he believes your everyday atheist is.

I realize I may have asked similarly vacuous questions in the past, I am young, I am no professional writer, and I started this blog largely to work through my own personal crises. Given the audience that John Gray (the author) is writing for, I would expect a higher level of journalistic integrity from him than I would hold myself to–and yet while well written from the standpoint of “Yes, I can read that easily,” it is poorly sourced and contains no small hints of biases and latent … Theicism?

I like that word. I am keeping it.

Anyway, I think the average atheist is far more reasonable and open to skepticism and doubt than the author believes. Certainly, I am open to free discussion and alteration of my ideas, and I certainly am not free from the doubt of what happens to me when I die, so maybe it is just that I am the wrong kind of atheist. *Shrug*

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 3)

Alternate title: Nietzsche’s Problems with Scientific Racist Nazis

The third section of this article starts off with a bang leveling so many unfounded claims that the Bullshit Per Sentence ratio in that first paragraph reaches Fox News levels.

The problem with having the answer to a question asked is that so often you are ignored. I am not the first to posit a morality based on mutually assured survival (one would think the acronym MAS would resonate a little with the religious crowd, no?). Given Evolution seeks survival, and people working together survive best, I can’t see why I should have so much trouble selling this as a sort of prevailing morality.

Anyway, this author is stuck to the idea that saying you do something “Because Science,” is some sort of binding holy oath, and if one person happens to say “Science shows racism is the cool thing to do,” all other scientists are now (for some reason) obligated to agree.

I don’t understand the thought process here. As I’ve mentioned before, saying you’ve done something in the name of science does not indicate that any science has, in fact, been done. (Yes, I will use science as a verb. You can’t stop me.) While Nazis may have claimed their racism has roots in science, no data was shown. Where were the experiments? The predictive capabilities? Oh, the Nazis did plenty of experiments, but very little data was found regarding racism. We did learn a TON about the human body, and you are welcome to throw that out if moral grounds require it of you — I don’t condone what the Nazis did, but it cannot be undone, and their actions (ironically) have probably saved or improved more lives than World War II ended. That, dear author, was done in the name of science. Science gone mad, science gone wrong, but that is science — experiments were done, data was collected, predictions made, and treatments for a huge variety of diseases or conditions were created.

And in all of that, nothing data-wise to show that the Aryan Race was genetically anything other than “A bunch of white guys.”

Another issue I take with this author is his use of “liberal morality” as some sort of talisman, as if it is liberals only who have a different idea of morality, as compared to conservatives. Please allow me to paint a picture, using only a few words, and you can tell me why it is liberal or conservative, or why my version of morality is in some way skewed.

Evolution has a goal of continued survival -> Survival is easier in groups -> Larger groups survive better -> To have a large group, you must get along (more or less) -> To get along, you must help each other.

The terminating point there is more important than I can probably ever describe. What I do, to make others happy, to try to get along, to empathize and help, to love and like and assist, all of that moves towards a goal of social cohesion, of group survival. But it doesn’t have to end here — if we accepted those of other nationalities, of other creeds, of other social groups, we could ensure the survival of not just our group but of our planet. If the Russians and Americans and Chinese would just treat each other with due respect, give each other the benefit of human decency, we wouldn’t have to be afraid of any wars — a year from now, ten, one hundred, one thousand. That is why I will try to press my morality against yours, against those who would quote Leviticus and hate gays, over those in all centuries up to and including the 21st, who quote the Bible as supporting their right to own foreign slaves, to those who enforce border guarding with force–that force extending to murder.

Is there really anything so futile as killing people because of invisible lines that someone several hundred years ago drew? This isn’t purely about religious morality, this extends beyond it, to being a kind human to those even if the Bible doesn’t tell you that you have to.

And there’s the rub; people will be nice to those they grew up with, hate those that the Bible tells them to hate (As the WBC has informed me), and then treat with general indifference, to the worsening of our entire planet, anyone outside of the above two groups.

And my “liberal morality” is “highly questionable” as per the article. I can’t even describe how sad that thought process makes me.

The author then makes a claim that the New Atheists wish for a world where religion never existed, but this is purely academic. It doesn’t matter if they want that or not, they can’t have it, so let’s not even waste breath and distract each other with talking about it. I don’t want a world where religion never existed–I don’t even care for a world in which religion doesn’t exist going forward… All I want is a world where all humans are just decent to each other, regardless of race, religion, creed, nationality, gender, sexual orientation… How about we treat each other decently based on the highest order thing we all share; species. We are all humans, and as far as your God is concerned, I think we are all equally human and equally culpable for our own actions.

The problem I have is that too many people rely on religion for their horrible motivations. Oh, I realize that saying “I do this for God,” is just as vacuous to you as “I do this because science,” is to me. The problem is that while science has strict codes of conduct regarding what actually counts as science, the Bible is a mess, a hodgepodge of conflicting language and ideas–it makes it easy for you to quote a Bible verse regarding your own morality while I can counter with a Bible verse supporting my own version. As far as Biblical morality, perhaps it is you who will settle the ages old argument that Jesus and Paul had as to whether or not Christians should follow Jewish law. (And for those who have not read the Bible recently, Jesus unequivocally says during the Sermon on the Mount that, and I am quoting here, “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-21)) Now, some have claimed that “until all is accomplished” means “Until Jesus died and was resurrected,” but that point was clarified with “Until Heaven and Earth disappear,” which has obviously not happened. Some people even like to quote Matthew 5:17,18.5, completely ignoring the part about Heaven and Earth. 

So until I see you sacrificing Doves every day you are ill, we can both agree that what counts as righteous and even moral in the Bible is no more immune to scrutiny than my own version.

And here, speaking directly of Nietzsche’s atheism, there is another correlation/causation fallacy. To go one level deeper, it is a chicken first or egg first debate. Did modern moral ideals come from religion, or did religion merely codify existing modes of thought? I know I don’t know the answer, but it has been a very long time since an evangelical elephant preached to me, but I know that an elephant sacrificed himself for the goodness of his herd in 1894, and there is not one iota of evidence to show that he was Christian. If morals come universally from religious texts, I would challenge the religious apologetic to tell me by what method birds were taught the methods of reciprocal altruism. One may say that they were put in birds by God during creation, but then I have to raise the same point as I did in part 2; how did God select which species got morals that humans would identify with, and which species are morally bankrupt? Again, evolution ties this ribbon beautifully, but I am certainly open to your making an attempt at it.

“The idea that the human species is striving to achieve any purpose or goal – a universal state of freedom or justice, say – presupposes a pre-Darwinian, teleological way of thinking that has no place in science.”

I don’t even know where to start with this sentence. Religion does not exist in a bubble, free from scientific principles–evolution existed before Darwin wrote of it, and whether religious adherents recognized it or not, they were agents of that overarching idea through all of history. Remember how I mentioned that evolution favors group survival tactics in many species? What is religion if not a group of like-minded individuals. Also, this sentence tries to place some sort of overarching goal on us of the author’s devising, despite the fact that a master goal already exists: To Survive.

Below that overarching master goal there are group goals and personal goals, but there is no other species-wide goal save to survive and pass our genes on to the next generation of survivors.

Since the goal of which he speaks doesn’t exist, one can brush away his assertion of presupposing a pre-Darwinian way of thinking. To quote Ron Swanson “Everything I do is what an award winner would do, for I have won an award.” Religion has a huge place in evolution, a place without which the human species may have fractured and died — but that does not forgive the Crusades, or the Inquisition. That does not forgive 9/11, or any of the subsequent bombings. That does not forgive the 2011 Norwegian Massacre. And just because we did need religion does not mean we do need religion.

Please permit me a metaphor:

When learning to swim, I needed water wings. Later in my life, I did not require water wings.

Religion is our moral water wings, but now we are racing against people who are good at swimming. Anyone wearing a flotation device can tell you that swimming at speed is almost impossible while wearing it–it may have helped before, but relying on the Bible for morals has been holding us back in recent decades. I am not saying abolish religion, but perhaps you can take off the water wings for a lap and see how moral you can be without the Book of Leviticus and its many Abominations.

It is at this point that I have to point out why my version of morality is so likely to succeed and make predictions based on that assertion. In a racist morality based on “science”, it can be predicted that only one race should survive, and that requires the death of many other humans, not of your selected race. How do you prove that those humans are less deserving of life than you? You cannot, therefore you reach a brick wall, a place where no amount of posturing and rhetoric can unstick you.

With an evolutionary morality based on mutually assured survival, and strong group cohesion within the entire human species, where is the brick wall? Where do I have to make an unfounded assertion requiring the rhetoric of a salesman to break through? As the group of morally bound people slowly grows, eventually all are members of the group, cared for and appreciated by every other member of the group. Mutual care and appreciate leading to mutual happiness. Eventually, the happiness of all members, in a perfect world.

I realize the world isn’t perfect, but in the morality of group happiness, I think malefactors will be punished very similarly to how they are today. There will still be racism, I know I can’t stamp that out with flowery optimism. But without set boundaries (you can only live with us if you accept our God(s)), I think the global community could grow much more quickly than it is today.

That being said, religion (despite its strict dogmas and threats of hell) has been unable, over 10000 years or more of human history, to curb our tribal instincts and desire to kill — and I doubt my way would have any greater success. The only thing that would be gained by eliminating religion would be to remove one more reason fanatics use to kill each other. And that is my pessimistic thought for the day.

Correlation vs Causation (2015 edition, Part 2)

My continuing response to this article telling me what New Atheists fear.

My last piece of commentary on this article was related to the notion that the very things Christians accuse Atheists of, they, too, are guilty of. That is a double edged sword, I am happy to admit — a realistic self appraisal should note one’s own weaknesses. Often, atheists are equally in breach of what they accuse Christians of doing.

But that’s… That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Why can’t our moral breaches be “because we are human,” rather than “because of what we believe about what happens after we die”?

Of course, I’d like to expand that thought and leave the reader an exercise in the process. The Catholic Priests who have been accused (and those whose victims produced tangible proofs)–did they engage in latent homosexual pedophilia because they were Catholic? (Protestants, your vote may carry less weight here… Also, that was a joke.) Did Hitler kill the Jews because he was a Catholic? Even if you want to argue against his religiosity, he claimed religion as his motive, his basis — if you are going to hold Stalin as an example of “A man who outright said he did these things because he was Atheist,” you actually open the door for the Hitler counterpoint, because Hitler said in a speech regarding culling the Jewish population, “As a Christian, I Feel that My Lord and Savior was a Fighter” . Let’s look at the individuals is what I am saying here — no one would accuse Hitler or Stalin of being particularly sane or reasonable.

Perhaps it was a weakness of my Christianity that had me drift almost inexorably away from the Church, but I never understood the pervading thought that God need be at the center of all parts of your life. I think politics is where this shines both most brightly, and yet appears black as pitch.

People are easily sold when an idea is framed well — I think the Republican promise to terminate the Estate Tax during the 2012 election cycle is a particularly disturbing example. Mitt Romney was speaking to a group of people that ranged from fairly poor to upper middle class, and he exclaimed to great applause “Tax was already paid on that estate! The government shouldn’t take money for something already paid for!” What he did not mention is that the Estate Tax only comes into play for inheritance greater than $5.4 million, and that this change would affect literally zero of the people cheering for it, while presumably reducing the available tax revenue for critical services such as maintenance of highways, federal infrastructure spending, federal spending on health and education — all things so incredibly important, and already over burdened and over budget. This was a bit of an aside, but it just goes to show that things can be packaged and sold easily.

Where this gets particularly difficult is with cardinal sins. Many Christians are staunchly pro-life (the no exceptions type, such as in the case of rape or incest), so any politician can slide in a great deal of otherwise incredibly negative (or outright sinful) legislation under the very wide shadow created by their pro-life stance. I am not so ignorant as to say all religious people are single issue voters, but I know for a fact that many are — I have a family member who could hear “I will vote pro-life in every case!” And then vote for that person in every election, even if that was followed up with “And to do it, I will cut food aid for starving countries, cut spending on education, cut spending on healthcare (thus causing far more deaths than ‘abortion in the case of rape’ could possibly account for), and then kick a puppy!”

You may think I am being overly cynical, but I’ve spoken to this family member, using very similar language, and she stands by abortion as the definitive portion of the previous scenario.

In much the same way, Republicans have framed the political landscape to be “We are the party of Christ, look how pro-life we are! And look how much the democrats ignore the Bible!” The United States are still overwhelmingly Christian, and given various lawsuits that have been raised in various places in the States it can be inferred that “Separation of Church and State” only applies to non-Christian (read: heathen) religions in many cases. Note, please, the wording; I did not say all, and I did not say most, but definitely religion is enshrined in the current political landscape.

But under the shadow of Pro-Life, they have cut what they call “Entitlement” spending, because a single mother working three jobs and still needing food stamps can obviously be described using the exact same words as a 16 year old who gets a Porsche for her birthday instead of the Ferrari she asked for. The first is spending that protects those in need. The second is, much more clearly, “entitlement”. But that’s not the package all of this is being sold under.

This is a personal question, but I have always wondered (given the liberal use of “Entitlement spending” to describe things such as food stamps and universal healthcare) where the line can be drawn. Where do entitlement and charity cross? I mean, if the government gave money to Iraq, that is considered “Charity” and “Foreign Aid,” but where they give it to their own people it becomes “Entitlement”? Is that the line, people within the borders are worse? Why is it Charity when a Church sends missionaries to third world countries to improve infrastructure, but when a government does that same thing, it is considered a waste in so many cases? And a flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars when done within the country’s borders?

Why did I go on that political rant? Because the author states: “It’s inconceivable that a professed unbeliever could become president of the United States.” I would say that statement is too passive; “It is inconceivable that anyone not professing a strong Christian doctrine could become president of the United States,” would be more accurate I think. But why?

If candidate A proposed the exact same legislation of candidate B, why should a belief in God tip the scales? If you say a belief in God gives you a stronger core morality, why have so many republicans who profess Christianity been caught in extramarital homosexual sex scandals? Or, to quote again the Catholic priests who are now convicted pedophiles, would one of them going into politics poll favorably? A pedophile versus an atheist?

Again I say, look to the actions of a man, and his words, not his private beliefs about an afterlife. As nearly as I can tell, my morals are very near to Christian values, yet I have no belief in an afterlife, and that discredits my place in public discourse in the United States. Why is that? I can’t say I understand it. And I haven’t even had a sex scandal yet!

The author calls into question the shifting moral zeitgeist, stating that atheists in the 19th and early 20th century believes some obviously illiberal things, therefore who’s to say that what we believe now won’t be irrelevant in 70 years more?

Here’s the thing, Christianity is (again) prey to the same foibles; slave owners used the Bible as justification. The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, has been called timeless… But my own personal statement, “to bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it,” and to attempt to minimize any negative impact I may have on others in my life, can be expanded universally. If we all cared for each other as much as we professed to, the world would be an amazing place.

I am about to give you two statements. See if you can spot the difference:

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements. When they assert that science can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

“It’s probably just as well that the current generation of Christians seems to know so little of the longer history of Christian movements. When they assert that religion can bridge fact and value, they overlook the many incompatible value-systems that have been defended in this way.”

I’d like to think that point makes itself, but Christianity defended slavery, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition. Hitler framed the Holocaust using his own personal Catholic belief.

His own personal belief. Now here’s the fun question: How do you know your beliefs are the right ones? Hitler thought his were. They were evil. Stalin thought his were. They were evil.

So here’s an idea, you may find it crazy, but I came up with this idea, where we get people together, we don’t even ask what their religion is, and talk about how we can increase the happiness of the entire populace. And then see what happens! (Pro tip: half the people will be racist, the rest sexist. Because humans are generally pretty terrible. If you don’t fully believe me, allow the people to attend anonymously, see how they act when no one knows their name.)

“How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism.”

I, too, can make unfounded claims and then say “I have a source!” and then not tell you what that source is!

Mocking aside, altruism and reciprocal altruism has been observed in many species outside of the human race. Various primates and some birds (everyone needs to learn more about Crows!!!) have what appears to be a sense of justice, or at least a propensity to shame members who break certain rules that we would generally link to morality. If you are sticking with “God given morals,” I would ask “Why would God have given the same moral set to about half of a percent of species?”

I can explain group dynamics to a degree using science. Explain to me your side, and I will direct you (again) to various works of biologists. I am most familiar with the works of Dawkins, are are many–and I don’t mean The God Delusion, that is an offshoot. He is a professional biologist, and most of his published works are related directly to the science of biology, and too many people forget that. I seem to recall a saying that could explain it: “A man can raise sheep for 20 years, and be a shepherd… But if he speaks once against religion, he is now only an atheist.”

I’ve raised several questions, and summarized the first half of the top linked article exactly. I think that is a good place to end this part. Obviously, there’s more to come.