Tag Archives: creationism

If a spider is in an Oreo Cookie, then evolution is true!

You know about the Atheists Nightmare, right? Also known as the Evolutionists Nightmare. No? It goes like this:

That’s pretty darn convincing. Until someone opens up some closed thing and there is some new species in there, then EVOLUTION IS MADE UP!!!1!!!

Well, it turns out, Evolution is True. Some guy on the internet opened up an Oreo Cookie and inside was a new organism that could only be there IF IT EVOVED IN SIDE THE COOKIE!!1!! Look here’s a picture:

spider evolved inside oreo cookie
PROOF THAT EVOLUTION IS TRUE: This spider evolved inside this Oreo Cookie!

A fake you say? A falsehood you say? Sorry, but Snopes was unable to disprove that this spider appeared spontaneously inside this cookie. Indeed, we all know that stuff that can’t happen happens all the time. If anything, Snopes will declare something false even when they can’t, so clearly, this spider did evolve in this Oreo Cookie.

Evolution. It’s real.

BTW, if this happens to you and creates a spider problem in your house, we can fix that.

Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

The The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin was published over 150 years go. At the time, several different alternative theories of the origin and history of life were being discussed in the West. Some of these theories were theological. Theological ideas included a literal translation of the bible, with the flora, the fauna, and humans created in three separate but related creation events on a freshly made earth just a few thousand years ago. Another theological idea had an Abrahamic God’s hand involved in the history of life but in ways we were not likely to understand until after death. Still another idea, championed by the influential Louis Agassiz, had several God-made origins each representing a different combination of habitat, ecology, climate, and human race. Ice ages would periodically wipe everything out and then God would replace the bits, much like how a gamer re-creates a simulated landscape after system crashes or save failures in SimCity (See Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral for an excellent overview of this and related issues). Maybe the gamer does it a little differently each time, and maybe god did that too. Non theological ideas were emerging at the time as well including some like Darwin’s, but Darwin refocused and created de novo several of the key models that are part of Evolutionary Theory today, and it was Darwin and Wallace who advanced the specific theory of Natural Selection. These evolutionary ideas rested within a broader panoply of evolutionary ideas, some of which have faded away, others incorporated, others waiting to be reconsidered.
Continue reading Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

Evolution Debate Ends in Turkey?

According to the Turkish Daily News

The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey … has put a stop to the publication and sale of all books in its archives that support the theory of evolution, daily Radikal has reported.

The evolutionist books, previously available through TÜB?TAK’s Popular Science Publications’ List, will no longer be provided by the council.

The books have long been listed as “out of stock” on TÜB?TAK’s website, but their further publication is now slated to be stopped permanently.

Titles by Richard Dawkins, Alan Moorehead, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson are all included in the list of books that will no longer be available to Turkish readers.

Satan playing air guitar on his pitchfork in your local public school?

What about a picture of Charles Darwin burning in hell to teach kids about flames?

I don’t think so. Although I personally am not like some of my fellow secularists in reacting viscerally to any and all stylistic or symbolic references to Judeo-Christian religious themes, I am aware that there are recognizable religious visual or literary elements which, if used as part of a teaching tool, can be easily construed as promotion of a religion. “Promotion” is not standing on a soap box preaching, or telling students that a particular religion is bad while another is good, or giving extra credit points for prayer. Well, it is that. But promotion is also something as simple as a person in authority casually wearing a religious symbol or having such a symbol on a desk or wall in a classroom, or making references to a particular religious metaphor while teaching. These casual representations and references are relatively benign among adults, or in college, or probably even in senior high school, but in grade school they are regarded as promotion and public school teachers must not engage in this behavior.

Which brings us to the Science Marketing’s Boner of the Year award. Which, tongue in cheek, I just made up to draw attention to an interesting development.

You are familiar with Marketing for Scientists, the blog and the effort, as well as Marc Kuchner, science marketing guru. Marc’s thing is that marketing is important because without it you mostly get ignored. He’s right, of course, and I generally support and appreciate his efforts. You’ll remember the discussion a while back of Bill Nye‘s dressing down of creationism. Some people thought that Bill Nye being a meanie was a marketing disaster, and I disagreed. In retrospect, I’m sure I was right, because the controversy over Bill Nye pointing out that creationist parents are doing it wrong led to a widespread discussion of creationism in schools, and that discussion has to happen frequently. Also, Bill was right. Hard to go totally wrong if you’re right.

Marc just sent me a link to the latest post on Marketing for Scientists, which is “The Top Six Science Marketing Hits of 2012.” Number 5 is The Flame Challenge, of which Marc says:

This contest, held by the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University with help from actor Alan Alda, dared scientists and educators to submit videos explaining what a flame is—a subtle concept. What set this contest apart from other science communication contests is that the judges were 11-year old students: some 6000 of them at 130 elementary schools. The results taught us something deep, I think, about how children view scientists.

Here is the video, which is discussed here:

(If you can’t see that for some reason, go to the link.)

I happen to think this video does a great job of explaining the science of the flame. The visuals and the dialog bring the viewer to a question, then address the question in a way that explains it but raises another question, which is then addressed, until the whole thing is explained at a fairly high level. That is a very good technique. The voice over, visuals, music, and overall production are high-value, attractive, attention grabbing, well timed, and all that. In short it is a very nice piece of work.

Unfortunately, the video can’t be used in a public school classroom in the US because it promotes Abrahamic religious themes. Promotes as in uses which is really all you need. The video opens with a man who looks a LOT like Charles Darwin chained to a wall in hell, surrounded by flames. The narrator then goes on to explain to the possibly holocaust-victim evolutionary biologist all he might ever want to know about flames. Satan (or some other high ranking devil) makes an appearance a bit later. He is used in the story to demonstrate incandescence by heating up his pitchfork in the hell-fire. Later, during the wrap-up, Satan plays air guitar with the pitchfork, which is cute.

I know, a lot of people are going to say that I’m being ridiculous, that these themes are just part of culture, that they don’t mean anything, that kids are exposed to this sort of thing anyway, that the science teacher can use the video anyway and then have a lecture on the conflict of science and religion, etc. etc. etc. But all that is wrong, sorry. It is promoting a particular religion with state funds which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, it is inappropriate and could probably get a teacher in trouble if the right people knew the teacher was showing it. Making a science video and not taking into account the fact that teachers who have not thought about what they are doing could get in trouble is not good marketing. Well, it isn’t bad marketing either, it simply isn’t about marketing. It is about end user safety. This is like making a child’s toy and it is a) very fun, b) very desirable, everybody wants one, c) very well marketed and d) hurts some of the kids. And, no, we casual denizens of the internet don’t get to write off the fact that the negative effects potentially caused by a certain choice could be mitigated against by having an additional set of lectures.

On top of all this, I know there are teachers out there who will see this video and think it a great idea to use in the classroom precisely because it has a Judeo-Christian religious theme, and some will even like it because it depicts Charles Darwin burning in hell. Indeed, this is a physical science video, and there are probably more physical science teachers who happen to be Christian Creationists than life science teachers who are creationists, and the latter number is known to be well above 25%. So, yeah, Ben Ames, the maker of this video, may have produced a product that supports a creationist agenda, in a small but not insignificant way, even though that was presumably not his intention.

There may be a flaw in the process that could easily be fixed. Ben Ames is a communications and journalism guy, not a middle school teacher, or even a middle school education expert (I think … subject to correction). This project in communicating science, which I’m sure is a good one, will continue. I recommend that language be placed in the guiding documents for the project reminding producers that iconography or reference, even seemingly benign, to religious themes would likely disqualify a work from actual use in actual schools and would be best avoided. Also, having a science education expert familiar with the grade level and the legal and socio-cultural aspects of “marketing” science in the mix somewhere would be good. The idea would be to not let developers get beyond concept stage with unusable elements in place, in order to avoid wasting effort. As I say, this little film on flame is outstanding and really does the trick. It is simply unusable in the classrooms for which it intended, and unfortunately, will be used to potentially negative effect, and, here and there, exploited in a negative way. (This whole discussion must be adjusted, of course, for cases outside the US, where the First amendment does not apply, but where there may be similar issues.)

In this case, describing what a flame is, Hell seems like an obvious theme because there would be a lot of flames there. In some future year, perhaps the project will focus on floods … what could go wrong then?

Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual

Imagine the following scenario. Two guys are walking down the street, in different cities. Guy A has two PhDs, one in quantum physics with a focus on dimensionality dynamics, the other in astrophysics with a focus on relativistic aspects of gravity and black holes. She has published dozens of peer reviewed papers on both topics and is a brilliant mathematician. Guy B never took a physics class but yesterday he finished reading large parts of The Elegant Universe. Suddenly, at the same moment, they each have an idea (they do not have the same idea … they have different ideas) about how to unify quantum level and cosmic level dynamics.
Continue reading Empowering the individual does not equal ensmartening the individual

The War on Science: Interview

This is an interview at Atheists Talk (TV), an update on the war on science, and a rare opportunity to see me wearing a suit.

The first few seconds are sound free; do not adjust your television set.

I mentioned the NCSE, here’s their web site.

Here’s a couple of books related to the topic:

<ul>
  • Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril
  • Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Otto
  • Something on crying babies and vaccination is here, and something on milk allergy is here.

    Minnesota Atheists YouTube channel is here.

    Disclaimer: The comment that we have a new kind of storm is not a conclusion, but a hypothesis, though it does not sound that way from the way I said it. But now you know.

    ADDED: A fuller list of resources is HERE.

    David Coppedge was not fired because he is a creationist.

    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA fired him for performance reasons.

    Ars Technica’s John Timmer has the story:

    Coppedge had worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn, starting as a contractor in 1996, and later becoming a full-time employee. But one of the projects he pursued on his own time was the promotion of intelligent design, the notion that the Universe and, most prominently, life itself, is too orderly to have come about without a designer. (Like many others in that movement, Coppedge is a self-identified evangelical Christian.)\

    In 2009, he apparently got a bit aggressive about promoting these ideas at work, leading one employee to complain. … he had also aggressively promoted his opinion on California’s gay marriage ban, and had attempted to get JPL’s holiday party renamed to “Christmas party.” …. Coppedge was warned about his behavior at work, but he felt it was an infringement of his religious freedom, so he sued … part of a set of cutbacks on the Cassini staff, he was fired.

    From another source:

    JPL attorney Cameron Fox, however, contended Coppedge was a stubborn and disconnected employee who decided not to heed warnings to get additional training, even when it became clear the Cassini mission would be downsized and computer specialist positions eliminated.

    This is why Republicans are scary dangerous, and separation of church and state is so important

    Watch the following video without reading any context. Listen to what the guy says. Note that he says that evolution and embryology are lies from hell. Note that he claims that these lies have one purpose: To keep us from knowing that we need a savior. Note that he claims that the earth was create in 6 literal days about 9,000 years ago (why not 6,000 is a topic of another post some time, perhaps). Note that he claims that the Bible teaches us how we run our lives, our families and our churches, but most importantly, note that this man is saying that the bible, which he takes absolutely literally, teaches us how to run our public policy and everything in society.

    Also note that this man is a member of the United States Congress. And, while you are at it, also note that this particular congressmember was appointed by the Republican leadership to be on the Science Committee.

    This is Paul Broun, from Georgia. He is a Republican running for re-election to congress. I would love to suggest a link for you to follow so that you can donate to the Democrat who is running against him, but there isn’t one.

    Are you a Christian? Fine. You can certainly be a Christian in America and still be pro-science, politically progressive, and not scary like this guy. But please do understand that this man is your kin. Every morning when you wake up and finish your prayers, it is your obligation to do something about this, other than praying, something that will work. If you don’t, you’re just one of his people. That is not cool.

    If you are one of thole Olde Timey Republicans who thinks guys like this are crazy and are sort of embarrassed by your party these days, this man is still your kin. By remaining a member of the Party of Batshit Crazy, you are endorsing him, whether you like it or not, because not only are parties parties, but the Republican Party in particular is a lockstep party, regardless of your personal opinion on the matter. The beliefs this man is professing in this video are your beliefs if you are a Republican. I might suggest that it is time for you to cut bait. You might consider balancing between the chagrin of casting your lot with guys like this vs. making the very strong statement of walking away.

    And no, it is not the case that Paul Broun is an outlier. In this video, he is giving us the party position. There is no real science in the Republican Party. It is not allowed.

    Hey, here’s a petition you can sign!

    Critiquing the critique of the critique of the critique of the critique of Bill Nye's video

    This is a response to Critiquing the “Critique” and the “Critique of the Critique” of Bill Nye’s Video at UrbanAstro.org. In that post, FURYGuitar addresses both Critiquing the Critique of Bill Nye’s Video by me and Bill Nye’s “Don’t Teach Creationism…” Video Dissected by Business Communication Expert in which scientist and marketing expert Marc Kuchner writes in a guest blog for Scientific American Blogs an interview with communication expert Patrick Donadio. Continue reading Critiquing the critique of the critique of the critique of the critique of Bill Nye's video

    Can Missouri Students Skip Evolution Assignments If They Don't Believe In It? I

    Two days ago, according to the NCSE, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 which protects the right of citizens to pray and express religious beliefs, which was already the case because of the US Constitution. However, the Amendment will have other effects that were not mentioned at the voting booth. For example, “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” What do you think THAT is going to lead to?

    The Texas evolution wars

    Genie Scott’s report from the front, from Texas textbook battles to the Texas Board’s attempt to “creationize” the state’s science standards. How will this affect the future of education in Texas…and the U.S.? Where: Texas Freethought Convention. When: 10/8/2011.

    The books referred to are Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, 2nd Edition and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.


    Photo of Eve and Adam by elmada

    Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

    Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

    The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

    Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    I recommend that you have a look at Matt’s blog posts, here and here.

    Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art.

    I insist that the cults of Elvis and Bigfoot be taught in science classes from now on. Photo of Elvis and Bigfoot fighting courtesy of roadkillbuddha at http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadkillbuddha/239553576/sizes/z/in/photostream/
    Other than pointing you to my colleague’s post, which also includes information about recent creationist antics in the legislative system, I also wanted to mention two-three reasons why we actually can’t do this. This is not a disagreement with Matt; he knows these things too. I just want to make sure they get mentioned.

    First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. “If only they taught the kids how to bla bla bla then everything would be fine.” The thing is, whenever such an idea occurs to someone with power, like the person who happened to show up on nomination day and got elected to the school board in Poffadder Iowa, it actually DOES get added to the curriculum. School boards and administrators generally have no idea of what goes on in the classroom and despite words they may use have little respect for classroom time. Every year, in most schools, classroom time is taken away and replaced with dumb-ass crap mandated by the state legislature, the school board, the school’s administration, or whatever. Lockdown drills, Pledge of Allegiance, The News Minute, standardized tests that do not have a standardized schedule, etc. etc. People worry about snow days. Snow days are not the problem. Administrators with a microphone and a random thought popping into their head are the problem.

    Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. That’s a breech. This is being walked back here and there, and the weakening of the charter school strategy is helping with that, but we can’t handle too many breaches.

    Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

    One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. Well, we always have been to some extent, but it has gotten specific:

    …let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation.

    If this strategy is attempted, though, I very much hope that the first law suit demanding equal time comes from … well, you can probably guess what I think about that.

    Ancient artifact from The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion from the fourth millennium before the present. Source: Pastafarian at http://goo.gl/9hsZY

    1Hated by many of those who want to force their particular religious beliefs onto others’ children by legislation.