The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Sunday, November 14, 2010


When addressing some of the issues of the fundamentalist view of evolution it is important to identify some key words that they use to try to vilify reasonable scientists and educated people that understand the concepts of evolution and natural selection. From the way the word is used by the intelligent design side it seems that the word “Darwinism” is meant to describe the “believers” in the Theory of Evolution to make it seem more like a radical belief such as astrology or paganism. It is clearly viewed as a philosophical belief instead of an area of fact such as electric theory and thermodynamics. To the Intelligent Design camp, believing in Darwinism is presented as a de facto religious belief. However they would not, for the most part, say that people that believe in the ideas and principles of plumbing to be “Plumbists.”
Words such as Darwinism, Darwinist, Evolutionism, and Evolutionists are used as hot button words to vilify the above groups. Not so much to the groups they are trying to attack but to their base supporters. Such as, These are not scientists, they are Darwinists. The truth of the matter is these are the types of general and specific attacks that the Intelligent design people use in order to motivate their base.
I will be the first to say that many of these people are indeed well educated and speak well about what they present. But unlike myself another reasonable people they are not prepared to have the basis of their views challenged. I have attended and watched several of the debates between Evolution and Intelligent Design. The strength of their attacks is usually in areas where science is not complete or the rehashing of previously discredited models and theories. Just as in any area of discipline there are those that either through poor methods or personal glory will use their position to advance their career. This is the same with those that have been involved in evolutionary research. Rightly so these persons should be exposed for the results they produce. By the same turn the methods of the Intelligent Design camp must be equally willing to lay behind the failed ideas of their ideas when a more sound set of scientific data comes around. The ID adherents will fight tooth and nail to keep their core ideas when the credible scientific facts are placed in front of the ID points. When this happens in the scientific community the result is not a failure of the model just a failure of procedure or ethics. Evolutionary researchers are often the most vocal and first ones to point out faulty research.
This is one reason that ID supporters are able to use the names of prominent evolutionary biologist in trying to support their ID case. They will take the quotes of scientists in the field and use them to show why sample or example XY or Z is not right. The reasonable point of this is to show weakness in the scientific processes and highlighting other discredited scientific mistakes then move on to other models that follow the predictive nature of the existing data. But by failing to offer reasonable models for the existing datum ID supporters only hope to show that the scientific community is trying to use fraud and subterfuge to support otherwise sound scientific methods. Also, many of the attacks on Evolution are not on the science itself but how supporters of ID and creationism have been treated by the legal and scientific community. Failure to offer both “sides” in the public classroom, referring to polls that show many Americans think that a “balanced” presentation of the two sides is fair. But I am sure if you asked the same Americans if Astrology should be given equal time as Astronomy or Alchemy should be given equal time in Chemistry class they would say it has no place in a classroom of science. Do you teach the “Flintstone” method of auto mechanics or the Icarus method of flight design in aerodynamics classes? Of course not and you don't teach the six day creation of Earth in the Biology class.
To the Intelligent Design supporters the debate between the two areas of thought is a chess game. The one that has the points wins. They will site public opinion polls and statements from scientist taken out of context and quotes from prominent persons that are not scientists. Other is trying to use “common sense” allegories to support their ideas such as the “irreducibly complex eye” and the bacterium flagellum, the “irreducibly complex wing and so on and so forth. Just a few highlights on the points I brought up are the eye at 95% productivity is much better then an eye at 50% productivity but both are useful to the animal that has them. Because both are better then 0% productivity of an eye. Concerning the wing. There are many aves that are flightless. I think that is all that needs to be said about that. Their argument implies a purpose of the wing. Humans are the ones that assign purpose not natural selection.
But science doesn't operate that way. Public opinion polls do not produce scientific results and should never be used to determine scientific procedures or results. If all the people on Earth still believed that the Sun rotated around the Earth it still wouldn't make it so. If every scientist was to support the ideas of ID, as some do, it still wouldn't change the facts of evolution. These are truly two different playing fields. Surely they wouldn't have the same views for the efficacy of immunizations and advancements in treatments for disease and and other accepted medical areas. Nor would they question the concepts of computing and electronics that make their life what it is Today. Surely they wouldn't argue against the use of engines and motors for transportation. For the most part these things do not conflict with their world view through their belief system. But when it comes to the evidence of Evolutionary Biology they feel threatened because their view of what life means and why we are here is called into question. They look at it this way, “if the Theory of Evolution is true then my belief system is flawed or even none existence.” But the same scientific principles that the ID supporters accept lead to the answers that Biology and Astronomy, Geology, and other areas of science use to come up with the answers that the ID people use to attack in their challenges.
For the most part the ID supporters do not want answers to these questions. There really is no need for them. They find their answers in their scared book. To the ID supporters, the Bible is a book of science as well as a book of religion. While ID supporters will work hard to find areas of weakness of Evolution they will exercise no effort show how a supernatural action is possible. The will use public opinion and try to use the political process to get their points of view in place in the public schools. Then when scientific discoveries are found that have a vague reference to support their religious view they will use these to shore up their sinking claims of a supernatural creation. Scientific ideas such as Quantum Physics and “the god gene” are a few of the areas that ID supporters will try to twist into their world view.
ID supporters will freely set aside the laws of Physics and other natural laws in which all nature have been shown to follow and conclude that the answers that fall outside the area of acceptable answers, such as the Earth being more than 6000+ years old are not in violation of the laws of nature since a creator is free to operate in any way it sees fit. So what they are saying is that if there is a creator or intelligence behind The Universe that this creator is free to deceive the entire Universe for his own purpose, however they offer no sound natural evidence of this ever happening or how it could happen. Basically they will examine the light from a star or galaxy and the spectrum will show a predictable redshift which the distance can be calculated using a standard formula. When the answer is 7000 light years or greater the ID believer must say from that point and older that the creator is just messing with us but everything up to that point is alright. This is a principle I would love to apply to my financial situation. “I am sorry, Sir you don't have anymore money left.” “No I am not broke I actually have millions of dollars but you just can't see them. But I sure do have them. I just imagine them like I do and they are there ready to spend.”
Recently I saw a set of questions that are suppose to support a creator. It dealt with DNA and the coded sequence. The point asserts that a DNA sequence is a “code” and that a code must be created for it to be a code. This is a misnomer as a definition. It is indeed a code as defined but a code is also the sequence that a snow flake is formed and crystals are formed. Other areas in Physics and chemistry follow similar patterns and codes.
Just because the DNA sequence is an advance molecule and behaves according to an predetermined pattern doesn't mean that the code is anything but a naturally occurring phenomenon. ID supporters look at a naturally occurring pattern and say this must have been created just like a computer code or music written for a song. But they misunderstand the idea of patterns and repetition in nature. One of the most clear examples is that of gravity. In nature, gravity works to hold matter together as it accumulate more matter together. One of the results of this is that celestial bodies gain and spherical form as they gain mass. That is why as a planet or start gains mass we see it as round. Of course even with gravity it takes a certain amount of mass to produce the spherical appearance that we are most familiar with. Objects such as asteroids may not have sufficient mass to have gravity form them into a sphere or other forces may have been at work on them such as collisions with other bodies. This is just one area where natural forces act according to a predictive set of laws discovered by man. The predictive nature of science is the key to which science subscribe and is a bedrock of the experimentation and discoveries that scientists from all over the world depend to make their work possible.
If we lived in a dynamic universe that the rules of Chemistry and Physics were ever changing it would be impossible to operate any equipment or depend on the purpose of medication with any known reliability. But we are able to make predictions of how things work and with this we can work to figure out how things operate in the natural world.
ID supporters will look at the way the universe is and say this is why things are this way because God made them like that. Douglas Adams addressed this many years ago with the water puddle story.i This puddle looks at its world and see how well this hole fits it. It says to itself, Wow, this is a really perfect world look how well this how fits me. It is almost as if the hole was made just for me. As a matter of fact it fits me so well the only way I could fit in it is if it was made for me. As the day goes on the Sun looms higher in the sky and the water evaporates and the holes shrinks. But even as this happens the puddle thinks I know I am special because I have been designed and this hole was made just for me. Surely my creator will save me.
But surely as the day continues, with the Sun shining brightly, the puddle dries up and the puddles last “thought” was, “Oops.”
What I am getting to with this is that the ID people look at how the balance of the orbit of the planet and the ratio of biological chemistry makes this the “perfect” place for life to be on.
To this I have little to say but, “No shit Sherlock.”
You know you go out to the mountains you will see up on the hillside homes made of logs with stilts and other material around the area that makes it work. If you go to the desert you will see building made of concrete, rocks or even adobe bricks. Guess what? These materials are abundant there. Same goes for the Caribbean Sea you will see homes made of palm trees and palm leaves. If life was not possible on Earth I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading it. We know that life is possible on Earth because we are proof of it. Not because we are a special creation of a supernatural carpenter. We happen to fit in the right spot at the right time. What this means is, as rare as life may or may not be, Earth was in the right spot at the right time.
If someone wins the lottery it isn't because of all the other times they played that they won it was the time they played that their numbers came up. Though some winners might disagree. Random chance, physical and chemical forces are the “creator” of life on Earth. In a very real sense, Being alive is one of the Universes greatest payoffs. Without us to see the magnificent Universe around us how would we know about the wonders of the world or the amazing worlds in out solar system. We are the only ones to know about the black holes, nebula clouds, quasars and the cosmic dust of the stellar nurseries.
To me this is an amazing thing to know. Of course, it would be nice to live forever and have peace and harmony among all peoples but if you can't get that at least the real world is pretty wonderful to the point of far overshadowing the make believe worlds of man. When it comes to the promises of God and the promise of tomorrow in the Universe, I take the Universe anytime. Yet as much as 45% or Americans still believe in the literal story from the Bible of how life began in the Universe. When you consider the other portion that feel a supernatural entity had some bearing on the way things are in the Universe the numbers that hold to a totally natural method of universal existence are anywhere from eight to fourteen percent. The concept of a outside influence seems to strong yet is so lacking in fact that anyone that would take the time to look at the cause and effects reason for evolutionary biologist to reach their conclusions would be force to abandon all or at least most ideas of anything supernatural influence on the natural universe.
A point of order I would like to bring to the front now. It is not that the people that understand biological evolution have all the answers, just as the studies of cosmological astronomy have found areas of correction over the decades. Things can change and discoveries can be made. Remember, Pluto is no longer a planet anymore, its a dwarf planet. But the most reasonable conclusions are not found in a ancient book of epic stories and drama, but in the halls of science. It can and has been said that it is much more easy to follow an unchallenged and simplistic dogma where one can feel a part of a bigger picture AND feel to possess a unique knowledge that others lack than to bother with the laborious idea of learning. This leads to the view that, “Everyone is wrong but us.” perspective. I have seen people say this over and over again. When I talk to adherents and they bring up a certain point of view special to their faith I will question them with, “You know the Baptists believe this,” or “The Methodists think this,” or the Anglicans believe this.”
The answer is always the same, “Yes, but were are right and they are wrong.” The person may have a Bible verse quote to add, maybe not. They may add a allegoric story. It may just be they feel “we are right” and “they are wrong” and that is it. Even after pointing out a clear example of how their “exception” to the rule is no different that the other adherents “exception” they hold to their unique special knowledge.
Of my more favorite examples of this is concerning baptism. When it comes to Christianity, this is one issue that seems to run through almost all the different denominations. But how it is done is greatly varied. For instance, some of the “older” Christian faiths such as Catholic and Episcopalian, Lutheran and several others say that a baby or child may be baptized even if they are too young to know what is happening to them and what is means. Other Christian faiths say that a person must make a decision to accept Jesus and that getting baptized is something they do after they decide to become a adherent. These are clearly two different perspectives of the same supposed issue. Yet they are still both very different from each other. One a person is not aware of what is happening to them, or really needs to know, the other the person decides when the event will happen to them with their full knowledge of the event.
This is just one part of this crazy act. The second part is how much water is to be used. Again, some feel just getting a persons head wet is enough to make it right and other adherents say you must be submerged totally underwater to be baptized. Again, both quite different actions about an event of the same name coming from the same religion and basically from the same book.
It is not as if, with scientists a person can come to a church that has a certain dogma and say, hey wait a minute we are suppose to be eating whole wheat bread for communion not unleavened bread, or what ever may be served. And show why and then everyone learns that is the correct way. Not at all, many times in history one that would say a thing such as that would end up being arrested, beaten, tortured or murdered. If one was lucky enough to escape such reception to resistance established dogma, they may find themselves founding a denomination of the same religion.
Today, for the most part there is are a few Christian religions that are generally viewed as cults. The best I have been able to find the only two things that makes a cult a cult is a strong central figure to gather around and the number of people that believe in the ideas of the said cult. One exception could be a command from the despotic ruler such as Constantine. Prior to that, Christians were considered a cult by the Romans and Jewish people. Organizations such as Campus Crusade and The Navigators have behavior that can be called cult like. But since they usually adhere to a somewhat generic dogma, it is not viewed with the eyes of suspicion like Jehovah's Witness is or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and other smaller and less well known factions of Christianity. A person never thinks they are in a cult but that tag is usually placed upon them by outside groups. I would guess that a person in a cult for the most part thinks they are doing something really special. With that they might either feel that everyone needs to k now or they have to learn more to become more “spiritual” in their adherence.
Here is an example, Let's say that I have a feeling that the property that others have is not theirs but either mine or “ours” and need a way to convince the others to accept your 'inspired' idea. With the current “respect” or “hands off” treatment religious beliefs have, it would be easy to convince a person that the giving of their property to the group is one good way to show how much God loves you and you love God. Throw in a few Bible verses or even better yet make up a few new ones of your own and soon your be laying in the lap of luxury with hundred or thousands of faithful followers.
Imagine if any one a several prominent atheists or agnostic persons of the recent years were to have a supernatural conversion and leave reason behind. Take Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Denett, Rebecca Watson, Penn Jillette, Matthew Dillahunty, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Bill Mayer, P. Z. Meyers and so on. There is many more to name but here is a short list of persons that if they were to allow ill intent to be there motivation they could make more than likely a much better living spouting religious dogma after having a “conversion” experience of some sort that they could tell people about over and over again punctuated with a call for a move of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people listening to them.
However, I feel rather confident that none of the for mentioned persons or the many persons I have met like them would be able to, in good conscience, to undertake such an endeavor. But believe me, I am sure there are famous person out in the realm of Christian fundamentalism that know the words they speak have no meaning whatsoever other than how often and how loudly they speak them. But their secrets are so closely guarded that even their spouse or friends may not know. It may be a secret that they are unable to share. Even when the reasonable adherents put out books or other media it is almost impossible to overcome the build in bias toward bullshit in the bookstores.
When I purchased Richard Dawkins' book “The Greatest Show on Earth” on September 23, I had to have the person from Hastings bookstore help me locate it. However, if one wanted to find the idiotic books from Glen Beck, Joyce Meyer, Bill O'Reiley or Joel Olsten they were easy to find. They were proudly and prominently displayed in the front of the store or on there own special bookshelf.
As is well documented, James Randi exposed the malicious actions of Peter Popoff in his ministry back in the 1970s and with the help of his friend, Johnny Carson, exposed the charlatan psychic spoon bender Uri Geller. A short search for either one of these persons should reveal the disgraceful way they use people to their own personal benefit, These are just two of the more successful examples of how when a persons actions are held up in the public they loose face and go away forever. But sadly that was not the result of either of those two or ones such as Jimmy Swaggart, Tammy Faye, Robert Tilton, Terry Hornbuckle and countless others that have been disgraced in their ministries only to come back with the same show to get the faithful to hand over their time and money. I look forward to what new ministry Ted Haggard gets into eventually, now that he is cured of homosexuality. But even after these failure of personal conduct that must of their followers and non-believers will never approach the supporters of men and woman like these will say,
Of course, there are those who see all of this upheaval as the work of the enemy. According to Bishop Larry D. McGriff of the Church of the Living God, Pillard Ground and Truth in Dallas, 'The devil doesn't want to see God's work done, so of course he's going to attack the head.'”
It just makes me hit my head when I see comments like that. Which got me to think about why are people so resistant to facts about the failure of people in their religion and the failure of the religion itself. The only answer I could come up with is, education, or the lack there of.
If you ask the typical person what is the value of an education they will say it is priceless or the value cannot be measured. I would disagree with this idea. I would say that education should be free or as cheap as possible. What I mean by this is that a person shouldn't be restricted by the economic factors to educate them since this is one of the most important factors that determine a active civil population. It is a true statement that the basis of understanding of all disciplines have had a erosion of what makes up them different and what applies to which discipline.
The concepts of accounting, language, history, mathematics, grammar, art and science all have reasons that they have certain rules, concepts and procedures based upon facts of logic and reason. Maybe not grammar and art so much but the other disciplines, for the most part you have standard concepts that help the typical student understand what is happening in the subject. The issue with educating the average student is the students think that l earning is hard. The fact is learning is difficult for most students. So the teacher, principal, administrators, school boards continue to make the subjects more easy to pass instead of more east to learn. If one was to take an eight grade math book from the 1930 and compare it to a math book of 2010 it would have many more mathematical concepts with fewer drawings and pictures. Mathematics needs no pictures except for the actual concepts of what is being talked about. It is the place of the book author to give the examples of mathematics or it is it the purpose of the teacher.
I feel the teacher has the primary responsibility for this. But the teachers are a product of a failed system as well. They have been diverted from creative and student based education to having to cram in so much testing material because of “Leave no Child Behind.” From almost every teacher I have talked to about this the LNCB pressure makes the curriculum so rigid that they cannot use the creative models like used to be used only a few years ago. So students are pressured to produce the right answers instead of understanding the disciplines concepts. While getting answers are good, if one understand concepts they can gain the knowledge with continued work.
So we are getting a generation that just wants the answer. Getting things done in a day or hour or half-hour is the time table that most of us are becoming accustomed to. So why should a student spend anything to learn the process of how language and grammar can affect meaning and context of stories. Without knowing that there is a reliable process of determining the distance of an object in the sky by the light that is reflected from it, how can they understand that processes on Earth can occur within that same time frame. Of course, education cannot be done for free and the job that teachers do is important for us all. It is when outside agents such as government and union pressures try to gain control of the students and teachers it is only a lose-lose situation.
The result is higher costs and lower knowledge gained. To be honest I would rather have a student that understands the concepts and principles of a subjects but has trouble with the details over someone that is able to determine the right answers without knowing why the answers are what they are. Without this understanding, the students are graduated to the population reading and willing to accept answers that the “authorities” or “professionals” provide them. Another generation ready to be consumers and accept the cause de jour.


Coming Next Time;


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