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Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

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Turning Science Into NonScience February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Currently a hot tactic for creationists to use is to attack the assumption of naturalism that scientists have to make.  In fact that is the basis of the whole Intelligent Design movement, especially as popularized by the lawyer Phillip Johnson. 

Their argument goes that science assumes that there must be a natural explanation for how the world works.  Because of that science is blinding itself to the possibility that God is working directly in the world. 

 However is this assumption of naturalism really a self-perpetuated blindness on the part of scientists or is it a clear-sighted necessity for science to work? 

 Naturalism is basically the idea that there is a non-supernatural explanation for natural phenomena.  In other words any questions we ask about the world has to have a natural explanation.  Saying God did it is forbidden in scientific research.

 Before going further let me just say that just because a scientist assumes naturalism in his work (known as methodological naturalism) as a scientist does not mean that he or she assumes it in their total lives (naturalism).  They can be religious and still be a scientist. 

In fact a group of thousands of clergy from various religions such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and many others got together and did up a statement in support of evolution.   There are also thousands of scientists doing good research in evolution – paleontologists, archeologists, geologists, biologists – who are also Christian.  Two good books written about evolution from a Christian perspective are Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J. Godrey and Christopher R. Smith and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller.  Both are good books by Christian believers explaining why they support and do research into evolution and why they do not find it a conflict with their faith.

Going back to the main subject now, why is it that this naturalistic assumption is necessary for science to work?  The short answer as to why this is so is that “God did it” is a showstopper.  It stops us from looking further and deeper.

There is a Sydney Harris cartoon with two scientists watching a third writing a complicated mathematical formula on a blackboard. Between the two halves of the formula on the blackboard though are the words “And a Miracle Occurred”.    One on the watching scientist says to the other “I think he needs to be a little more explicit on that second step”

The Creationists(and this includes the Intelligent Design people since ID is nothing but a subset of creationism)  are like that scientist writing on the blackboard. 

When asked about how something occurs in the world there is a natural tendency to say that this is so complicated and we currently have no clue to how it occurred that therefore God must have done it.  However ignorance is proof of nothing but ignorance.  To be able to really make that argument work you would have to show how we can distinguish between these four possibilities when faced with a difficult question:

1)There is a natural explanation but we have not come up with the evidence needed to show us how to answer it or come up with the right way to look at the problem to solve it.  Some examples would be Plate Tectonics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

2) There is a natural explanation but we do not have the tools needed to solve it.  Examples are the Germ Theory of Disease (microscope) and most of Astronomy (telescope).

3)  There is a natural explanation but we will never be able to solve it because we just do not have the intelligence to do so.  For example imagine one of our early ancestors – possibly Homo Erectus – sitting on the shores of the ocean.  She notices the tides and wonders what causes them.  However her intelligence is too limited for her to ever understand how the gravitational effects of the moon and sun cause the tides.  Because of this she might conclude a god caused the tides when taking baths even though there is a natural explanation.

4)  God did it.

Until we come with a way to reliable way distinguish between these four possible hypotheses then assuming that God did it stops our questioning too soon.  If we had stopped with God causes disease to strike as punishment we would never have developed modern medicine.  If we had stopped with God causes the lightning we would never have learned about electricity and developed lightning rods among many other useful benefits.

 For people of faith, using an unknown as evidence that God did it not only stops us from looking for answers too soon but also puts the idea of God at risk.  What will the effect be on a person’s belief in God if part of that belief rested on ignorance and then we found a natural explanation?  Does it put his faith at risk then?  Ignorance is shaky ground to base a belief in God on.  Or any other belief for that matter. 

 I have gone on at probably too great a length because creationists love to use this naturalistic assumption as proof that scientists are atheists and that evolution is a theory driven by atheists.  Neither is correct. 

One of the interesting things about this is that the evidence for evolution and the stage was set for evolution by the creationist scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Their discoveries in biology and geology led to questions and answers that eventually resulted in evolution.  For a detailed look at that history Peter J. Bower’s Evolution The History of an Idea.  For a quicker but still good look at this try Edward J. Larson’s Evolution The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.

Since these arguments are being used most often in the context of evolution I have continued with that emphasis.  However make no mistake, were creationists to be successful in eliminating naturalism from science not only would evolution be destroyed but so too would all of science – from physics through chemistry, from Plate Tectonics to Relativity.   This can be very clearly seen in the other scientific theories and findings that creationist attack – age of the earth, radio-metric dating, Big Bang theory, etc. 

To sum up then, scientists have to assume that there are natural explanations for whatever questions about the natural world they are studying.  To do otherwise leaves them at great risk of missing out on a new discovery that will change the world – such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  To do otherwise would destroy science.

You Can Have Any Result you Want as long as It’s Right January 9, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Evolution, Religious Right, Right wing, Science, Uncategorized.
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With their teachings about “curing” homosexuals largely discredited in the US,  three  Christian missionaries went to Uganda. One month after their visit, a largely unknown Ugandan politician introduced a bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior- the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. The three American missionaries are now trying to distance themselves from the bill.

Such is the problem when science crosses with ideology– if the results don’t support the ideology, the ideology wins. One big issue that scientists have with Intelligent Design and Creationism is the statement of belief that members and associated researchers are required to sign. Below is the statement from the Creation Research Society.

CRS Statement of Belief

All members must subscribe to the following statement of belief:

1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs. To the student of nature this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths.

2. All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during the Creation Week described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation Week have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds.

3. The great flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Flood, was an historic event worldwide in its extent and effect.

4. We are an organization of Christian men and women of science who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman and their subsequent fall into sin is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.

This violates one of the basic tenets of scientific research, which is that when the results don’t validate the hypothesis, the hypothesis needs to change.

While religious idealogues are often guilty of this, they are not the only ones. Witness the anti-vaccination groups who refuse to accept the numerous studies that show absolutely no link between autism and vaccines, or the anti-electrical wires groups who refuse to accept the numerous studies showing absolutely no link between cancer and electrical lines.

Sometimes this ideology simply results in bad science. Other times it results in much, much more. In the case of Uganda, the results are ominous, indeed.

Lousiana Is At It Again October 6, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Evolution, Religion, Schools, Science.
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The State of Louisiana is not exactly known for its excellent public schools and with its latest volley against evolution, that trend will continue. Under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), teachers can use supplemental material to help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” In January 2009, the Lousiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will and will not be allowable under LSEA. A provision that “materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class” was deleted.

Left unresolved was the question of how to handle complaints about whether or not supplemental materials were or were not appropriate. The Department of Education recommended that any complaints undergo an initial review by a three-member panel named by the agency, then go to the state board for a final decision. However, the BESE evidently didn’t want people who know anything about science reviewing such materials because it revised the procedure so that when there is a challenge to materials, they will be reviewed by a panel of five, two of which will be selected by the DOE, one reviewer will be named by the challenger, one by the school and one by the publisher of the challenged materials.

Excuse me? One of the persons responsible for reviewing challenged materials to determine whether or not they violate the BESE policy will be selected by the publisher of the challenged materials? Gee, let me think. What kind of recommendation do you think THAT person will make?

BESE: Hey, you, Publisher’s Representative! Do you think these materials violate the Board Policy against promoting a religious doctrine?

Publisher’s Representative: No. Absolutely not. The materials promote Creation Science which everyone knows is not at all biblical in nature but is definitely scientifically based.

My guess is that Louisiana enjoys having schools that rank in the bottom five in the nation. Maybe with this new policy, they can actually come in last on the list!