Creationists Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, whom the creationists are rather proud of because he has a real live PhD (in kinesiology), has placed a bet against we evolutionists: Prove before a judge that science contradicts the literal book of Genesis, and you can win even odds on $10,000.

I’m pretty tempted to do it, though not positive where I’d come up with $10,000 for the pot (maybe my dad would loan me some of his retirement fund?). Creationism has failed in US courts no less than six times: Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), Daniel v. Waters (1975), Hendren v. Campbell (1977), McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1981), Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), and Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005). The odds of it succeeding now are pretty much negligible, making this the safest 100% ROI you’ll ever make.

Frankly, I’d feel sort of bad taking the guy’s money so easily, but I’d obviously put it to better use than he would. I’d probably give a big chunk of it to the Against Malaria Foundation, for instance. A lot of scientists will balk at giving this guy any more attention, but come on; he’s going to spend that money supporting Creationist things if we don’t take it from him.

Mastropaolo has really set the bar pretty low here. Any scientist in any discipline will do (probably so he can include himself), and all you have to do is prove that the literal account in Genesis is unscientific. You don’t have to disprove the Bible; you don’t have to undermine Intelligent Design; you don’t have to prove evolution is true; you don’t even have to prove Creationism is false. All you have to do is show that the literal book of Genesis is not science. You could literally cite Papal Encyclicals to that effect; you wouldn’t even need science books. I’m thinking maybe just reading a couple paragraphs from each of about a hundred science textbooks, stacking them all up in the courtroom.

There is one bad sign however: He’s said he’ll do this before, and hasn’t gone through with it.

Will atheism defeat religion by 2038?

JDN 2456338 EDT 15:00.

No Religion

This article thinks so. Personally, I’m not so sure. It’d be nice, but I’m not sure it will happen. We do know that most of the developed world is becoming more secular, that much is clear. But there is a major exception: the United States of America. Religious fundamentalism is as strong in the US as it has been in recent memory, and we still have 46% of Americans who believe in Creationism.

Part of it is that the US is almost not a First World country; we’re more like Qatar than we are Sweden. We have absurd inequality, massive poverty, the highest incarceration rate in the world… so even if a more secure life does make you less religious, America has a long way to go before people are going to feel secure. (Ironically, this means that the people saying liberalism leads to godlessness might be right; Liberal economic policy makes people more secure, so they don’t turn to religion as much.)

There have been many predictions of religion’s demise, dating as far back as the Enlightenment, and so far it hasn’t happened. People are stubborn and irrational. So, I’m cautious about making the same prediction again.

In most of my science fiction novels, I theorize that the world will fracture in two: There will be atheists, about 60% of the population, and fundamentalists, about 40%; there will be no moderates. As science undermines religion, it leaves only two choices: Give up science (fundamentalism), or give up religion (atheism).

I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but it seems to be the road we’re on. Listen to the people who blame atheism for school shootings, and gay sex for hurricanes. Are they a minority? Yes, but it’s a large and vocal minority with a lot of political power.

Reports of religion’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The prodigal blogger returns

JDN 2456236 EDT 11:25.

 

It’s been too long since I’ve posted on Crocoduck. I’m not even really sure why; I can’t really say I’ve been any more busy than usual. But hey, I’m back now, with a video of Ken Ham contradicting his own museum (thanks to Hemant Mehta).

“I don’t know where people get the idea that people rode dinosaurs. I mean, there’s no evidence in the Bible that that is so.”

Yeah, where would they get that idea? Also, I love how he puts “evidence” and “Bible” in the same sentence.

Why is Creationism dangerous?

 

Knowledge

JDN 2455997 EDT 21:27.

 

If you follow Crocoduck at all, you’ve heard us talk about how Creationism is ridiculous, make fun of Creationist stupidity, and point out the mountains of evidence for evolution. Yet I’m sure some of our readers are thinking, “Yeah, but so what? What’s the big deal? Sure, it’s stupid; sure, it’s crazy; but it’s harmless, right?”

Wrong. First of all, when most people hear about Creationism, especially Noah’s Ark, 6000-year-old Earth, totally whacky Young Earth Creationism, they tend to respond, “Come on! Nobody really believes that, except maybe a few fringe lunatic.”

39% of Americans agree that it is “definitely true” that the Earth was created in its present form less than 10,000 years ago. 53% say that God created man exactly as it said in the Bible (which apparently means Adam from clay, Eve from Adam’s rib). 54% believe that Creationism should be taught in public schools—only slightly less than the 61% who believe that evolution should be taught. These statistics are so horrifying I’ve heard people straight up deny their accuracy when I bring them up; but please, look it up. Poll after poll shows around 40% of Americans believe in the most extreme Answers in Genesis kind of Creationism. About another 40% believe in some sort of Intelligent Design or theistic evolution. Less than 20% of Americans believe in actual unguided natural selection—which is of course what evolutionary biology is actually about. It would be as if 40% of Americans don’t even believe in gravity, 40% think God occasionally intervenes in gravity, and only 20% actually understand how gravity works.

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Creationists Say The Dumbest Things

Creationism is EasyJDN 2455973

First of all, Mr. John Gardner, let me say, congratulations on your well-formed sentences and proper spelling. (Not as good as the late young author whose name you share, but he was a genius, so we can’t expect everyone to match that level.) This is something that is apparently too difficult for even such “giants” of Creationism as Eric Hovind. Perhaps one day you can rise in the ranks of gullible science denialists by impressing others with your basic competency in English grammar and spelling.

Unfortunately, your arguments are about as bad as those of other Creationists; so what the Lord giveth in readable paragraphs he taketh away in logical argument.

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Tu quoque?

Ah, Eric Hovind. He’s like Duane Gish without the book-learning. At least he’s not Ken Ham, I suppose.

Here we have him picking a fight with The Thinking Atheist by garbling an already pretty silly argument invented by Plantinga. First of all, it’s spelled “Tu quoque”, because it’s Latin; “Too quote” doesn’t mean anything. Second of all, it’s not really a fallacy, or at worst it is an informal fallacy like ad hominem (which Hovind would probably mangle into “Add homonym” or something similar). If I pull a tu quoque, what I’m really saying is that I can’t answer your challenge, but you can’t answer it either, so there’s something unfair about the challenge. (Acceptable uses of the tu quoque are often found in epistemology, where we all ultimately have to admit that our epistemology is not absolutely 100% bullet-proof, but clearly some methods—e.g. science—are better than others—e.g. tea leaves.)

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Politics update: Mealy-mouthed waffler narrowly defeats fundamentalist wackjob in pointless non-binding travesty of democracy

Mitt Romney, the only Republican candidate (other than John Huntsman, who is polling at like 2% right now) who has an even vaguely respectable platform on evolution, defeated Rick Santorum, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian fundamentalist, by a mere EIGHT VOTES in the Iowa Caucus. In fact this is by no means binding, and Rick Santorum has virtually no chance of actually being nominated by the party, but it’s representative of much deeper problems in American democracy. Mitt Romney will win the nomination, Barack Obama will win the election, and you can bank on that. Honestly you’d be better off banking on this than you would the sort of stock that S&P calls “AAA” (but that’s a rant for another time). No, the problem here is not who won–but how he won, by how much, and who he was running against.

First of all, it should never be that close. There are 300 million people in this country, and it should never be the case that 8 of them get to decide who will be the ruler of the free world–nor even get to decide who will be in the top ten choices.  If a fair vote election were that close, it would mean the candidates were basically identical. Since they obviously aren’t, this means that a small sector of the electorate (in this case, Iowans) is disproportionately powerful.

Secondly, nutjobs like Santorum should never even be in the running. People who honestly think that the Earth is 6000 years old and gays should be put in prison should never be allowed anywhere near the nuclear launch codes. Something is wrong with either the electoral system or the educational system (or both) when candidates this crazy has even a chance at serious political authority. Santorum is just the flavor of the week, as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann were before him; but that flavor is a very bitter one indeed.

It’s not exactly undemocratic, actually; after all, about 40% of Americans agree with Santorum’s bizarre views. They still shouldn’t win a plurality vote, but nor would they be completely out of the running. The problem is not so much that the American electoral system is unfair (though that’s part of it); it’s really something far worse than that: The American people are crazy.

We’re getting exactly the candidates we deserve. And what could be more terrifying than that?

Is Christian fundamentalism responsible for the absurd US economic system?

JDN 2455852 EDT 15:14.

 

AlterNet has a theory about why so many Americans continue to vote for politicians who systematically sap the middle class and destroy the environment.

 

That this is happening should not be controversial; the Republican Party continues to poll near 50% of the population despite destroying the economy, lying about proven facts like evolution and global warming, raising taxes on the poor while lowering them on the rich, and generally distorting democratic capitalism into a kind of corporate reverse socialism. Their recent attacks on environmental regulation would push us back decades and cost thousands of lives.

And there is a lot to be said for the AlterNet theory. First of all, the US is clearly exceptional in its level of religion, especially fundamentalist religion. In studies of religiosity the United States aligns not with its peers in the free world, but instead with places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Secondly, when the GOP votes on a radically far-right abortion bill—the sort of bill even most pro-life people would oppose—instead of the American Jobs Act that most economists agree would dramatically reduce unemployment, there seems to be a clear connection between fundamentalist “wedge issues” (like gay rights and abortion) and far-right economic policies.

But I would like to poke a few holes in this theory. First, there is the fact that these crazy economic policies largely started in the Reagan Administration, and Reagan was Catholic. His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was far more liberal and was an evangelical Christian. Every US President in the last century has been some variety of Christian (at least as self-identified), many evangelical or fundamentalist; and yet only in the last thirty years have neoliberal far-right economics taken hold in the US.

My own hypothesis is that evangelical Christians actually don’t believe in these crazy economic policies, but economics are not especially important to them. They figure that economics is for high-falutin’ elites, and they don’t want to get involved. Instead, what is important to them are socially-conservative policies like gay marriage, abortion, and immigration. Religious fundamentalists think of these as the most important issues, and so they vote on those positions regardless of everything else.

If this is right, then a socially-conservative but economically-liberal candidate could easily sway the evangelical vote. Unfortunately, this would mean accepting socially-conservative policies, which mainstream liberals like myself would be rather uncomfortable with to say the least. A ban on partial-birth abortions is one thing; a complete rollback of civil rights legislation is something far more terrifying. And there plainly are Americans—in alarmingly large numbers—who actually think that the Civil Rights Act was a bad idea, that illegal immigrants should be shot on sight, that gays should never be allowed to marry, that contraception should be illegal. Liberals seem to be damned if we do, damned if we don’t; either we give upon crucial economic reforms that the majority of Americans need and support, or else we sacrifice our principles and allow gays, minorities and women to be returned to the state of second-class citizens.

Ideally, there simply wouldn’t be religious fundamentalists—and perhaps we should be working toward this goal. But as long as they are here, we’re going to have to work with them (or around them).

 

Evolution: Still happening.

JDN 2455841 EDT 10:56.

 

A recent study involving a small island population in Quebec showed clear evidence of evolutionary changes in modern times. What’s really weird is that the evolution appears to be in the opposite direction from what we normally think of as “advanced human traits”; these people are becoming more r-selected. Another study shows that our brains have shrunk over the last 5000 years, which is positively bizarre. The cognitive demands of human life have most definitely increased over that time—you laugh, but Facebook is a lot harder on your brain than potato farming—and the invention of Caesarian section has removed one of the biological limits on skull size. I’m really not sure what to make of this; that archaeologist jokes about an “Idiocracy theory”, but the fact remains that he is an archaeologist (not a lot of those in the Pleistocene) and this is a blog (not a lot of those even 50 years ago). So clearly people today are quite cognitively capable. Maybe our brains have become more efficient—note that faster computers tend to be smaller, not bigger—or maybe we are more dependent upon education and learning for what used to be hard-wired.

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Crocoducks are currently under development

Well, alligator-chickens, anyhow. Close enough, right? We could probably make crocoducks using the same technology.

Yes, folks, that’s right: Those crazy genetic engineers who brought you glowing jellyfish-mice and goat-spidersilk-skin that is bulletproof, are now creating a whole new abomination:  genetically altered chickens with alligator snouts.

It seems we live in THE FUTURE, where the lines between species are blurred and biology is technology. It concerns me a little that the people doing this sort of stuff don’t seem to understand how incredibly creepy it all is. (A friend of mine is a student in genetics, and he once adamantly argued that reproductive cloning should be completely unregulated. George Foreman’s personal clone army, coming up.)

That said, there are some very significant benefits to be achieved from this sort of technology. Already those glowing mice are giving us new insights into embryology (it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on in an embryo when it glows in the dark!), and that goat-silk-skin will no doubt be soon integrated into not only military body armor, but also a wide variety of manufacturing materials. In fact, the lift cable on our space elevators may one day be made of silk. These bizarre gator-chickens are to be used in research that will advance our understanding of gene expression, perhaps one day leading into medicines that prevent such ailments as autism, cancer, and diabetes.