Category Archives: Evolution, Science


2013-11-16

The Top 10 + 1 Signs You Don’t Understand Evolution At All

by Neil Godfrey

A theologian prominent in the blogosphere has posted an article Why People Reject Evolution. It is a re-post of one of those flippant smart-alec type blog-posts that put-downs with ridicule those with views the theologian in question himself once held. We can only wonder why he shows so little compassion or understanding as he now mercilessly mocks and taunts those who continue to stand fast where he once stood. Is this some sort of Freudian attempt to suggest one was once a total idiot and therefore deserving of mockery? I’d prefer to think that once we emerge from views we now find embarrassing that we’d attempt to approach others with those views with more depth of understanding and compassion.

The first thing that hit me about the list of reasons people reject evolution was that they bizarrely omitted the central fact about the theory of evolution that probably all the books of evolutionary scientists I have ever read stress most emphatically. How can a list of reasons people reject evolution omit the one thing about the theory of evolution that is most central according to the view of nearly all evolutionists?

Here are the “top ten” reasons in headline form from the linked article. See if you can see the one key fact missing:

1. You think “it hasn’t been observed” is a good argument against it.

2. You think we’ve never found a transitional fossil.

3. You think macroevolution is an inherently different process than microevolution.

4. You think mutations are always negative.

5. You think it has anything to do with the origin of life, let alone the origins of the universe.

6. You use the phrase “it’s only a theory” and think you’ve made some kind of substantive statement.

7. You think acceptance of evolution is the same as religious faith.

8. You think our modern understanding of it rests on a long series of hoaxes perpetuated by scientists.

9. You don’t like Pokémon because you think it “promotes” evolution.

10. You think it’s inherently opposed to Christianity or the Bible.

Hang on! Did the author(s) of Genesis really write account(s) they (if only they knew) would be consistent with evolution?

Ah, the author of this blog-post comes to the rescue and explains:  read more »


2013-08-07

Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God

by Neil Godfrey

Tip Hillman has launched a new atheist Kickstarter project called Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God in an effort to

  • 1. inspire non-believers and
  • 2. encourage fence-sitters to embrace science and rational thinking.

It’s for a younger audience, and begins:

Kick scientific truth forward! Let’s produce Bright Simon’s first book, posters and t-shirts to promote freethinking, facts, and fun.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look at Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God. It’s a multi-faceted project that includes a printed book, posters, stickers, and T-shirts, all designed to promote science and rational thinking. It revolves around an atheist character, Simon, who contrasts the dubious claims of beliefs with the verifiable proof of science. His motto is “Aren’t You Curious?” and his goal is to promote knowledge and secular-based virtues in a friendly way through popular culture.

To fund the project $8000 needs to be pledged by August 30th.

Check out the details and how you can help, and see the carrots on offer at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tiphillman/bright-simons-guide-to-being-smarter-than-god

brightSimon


2013-05-23

Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences

by Neil Godfrey

Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals. Anthropologist Scott Atran writes about current research on religion, including his own. One of his online 2012 articles, God and the Ivory Tower: What we don’t understand about religion just might kill us. Now I used to love Richard Dawkins’ colourful critique of religion. Who could possibly argue with:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (God Delusion, p. 51)

atran

Scott Atran

But Scott Atran is one scholar who is forcing me into a rethink lately. He argues that it is misguided to think that religion will go away if we can rationally disprove all of its beliefs and premises. Fighting religion with reason and facts just doesn’t work because that sort of tactic completely misunderstands what religion is. Religious people know their beliefs are counter-intuitive and do not conform to the commonsense systems of thought that govern our everyday functioning in the physical world. Indeed, Atran argues, that’s the point of religion, and there is a clear benefit to groups and individuals within groups because of this. I will explain the arguments and evidence in future posts.

Till then, there is a clue to Atran’s conclusions in the following observation:

Thus, a century ago, while visiting the United States, Max Weber (1946:46) observed that even the most hard-headed capitalist would make it his business to advertise his faith in order to display his trustworthiness to others. . . . [P]eople apparently infer that explicit professions of faith carry the implicit message that trustworthiness matters — in the unblinking and forever watchful eyes of God — and commitments will be met even at great cost and even when there is no hope of reward. Science and secular ideology are poor competitors in this regard. (In Gods We Trust, p. 276. )

I expect to post more articles referencing Scott Atran’s works (In Gods We Trust is only one of his titles that I have beside me to read) on the nature of religion in the coming year and more) but till I start in earnest I leave here his concluding distinctions between Science and Religion. read more »


2013-02-15

Strange Bedfellows — Evolution and Christianity

by Tim Widowfield
Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955...

Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955, depicting the Fall of Man, the scientific cause of original sin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grants for serious studies

Yesterday (13 February), James McGrath posted a congratulatory note to two winners of the latest Evolution & Christian Faith (ECF) grant competition. The ECF panel faced some hard choices. They fielded requests from scores of applicants, but had only about $3 million to shell out.

You’ll be happy to learn that a number of the fortunate grantees will be working on important projects related to “questions about Adam and Eve, the Fall, human identity, and Original Sin—some of the most critical interpretive issues for evangelical theology.

BioLogos: Who are these guys?

I suppose on the face of it, nonbelievers shouldn’t care if Christians want to embrace biological evolution. In fact, it sounds like a promising idea. However, if that embrace suffocates the scientific method, then we can hardly call it a victory. Indeed, if we look at the BioLogos charter do we find science and religion viewed as a partnership of equals? Hardly.

Under the heading “What We Believe,” they state:

7. We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality. (emphasis added)

All right. It isn’t something I would sign onto. And I confess I get a little uncomfortable when Christians use the term Scientism, since it’s clearly an invented derogatory term that doesn’t mean much outside their echo chamber.

Science is useful, as long as it conforms to what we already “know”

But it’s their deal. So if it gets them on board, “no harm, no foul,” right? Maybe not.

read more »


2012-12-24

Richard Dawkins’ Al Jazeera Interview on Religion

by Neil Godfrey
Professor Richard Dawkins at a book signing fo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Dawkins is confronted with all the hard questions and criticisms he has raised with his book The God Delusion in an interview on Al Jazeera — with an otherwise very intelligent interviewer who, it turns out, believes Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse!

The questions he faces pull no punches and I personally thought the interviewer had the better of him when it came to citing the evidence for the motivations of suicide bombers. Richard also faces all those other criticisms his book has provoked — is religion a force for good or evil, faith, science, liberal religion, atheism, what is the worst form of child abuse, facing up to the good done in the name of religion, the meaning of life . . . . .

Special Programme — Dawkins on Religion

(Unfortunately I cannot embed this video. If anyone can tell me how, do let me know. . . . )

Tim has since embedded the video in the Comments section below.


2012-08-30

Theistic evolutionists are creationists

by Neil Godfrey

From Jerry Coyne’s comments on responses to Bill Nye’s attack on creationism (reformatted), posted on his blog, Why Evolution Is True:

Theistic evolutionists are creationists, pure and simple; they differ from straight fundamentalist creationists only in how much of life God was involved in creating, ranging from

  • those who think God set the whole plan in motion, knowing it would culminate in that most awesome of species, US,
  • to those who think that God tinkered with mutations to create the right species (see the philosophical work of Elliott Sober),
  • to those who think that humans are set apart from other species because God inserted a soul in our lineage (that’s the official view of the Vatican). 

That is being anti-evolution as scientists understand it, since we see evolution as a naturalistic process that has nothing to do with deities.

Sadly, far more Americans are theistic evolutionists than naturalistic evolutionists: the proportions among all Americans are 38% to 16% respectively (40% are straight creationists, 6% are unsure). We have a long way to go.


2012-08-11

Evolved Morality

by Neil Godfrey

I  loved this video clip of Frans de Waal’s talk, Moral Behavior in Animals. (It was recently linked on Jerry Coyne’s Evolution is True blog.) It demonstrates that more animals than humans have evolved moral attributes of empathizing with others, offering others consolation, “prosocial” tendencies such as caring for the welfare of others, and a sense of fairness. The talk begins by balancing the themes we used to hear so often about our nearest animal relatives being so aggressive and territorial by showing that they also “believe in” reconciling after fights.

Or if you are short of time and want to jump to the funniest part where we see outrage over an unfair deal . . . . .


2012-07-13

The Fanboy Defense — An Excuse for Doing Nothing While the World Burns

by Tim Widowfield

I smoke because Picasso smoked. And because Hitler didn’t.

— Albert Finney

Pablo Picasso 1962

Pablo Picasso 1962 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all for evolution, but . . .

Robert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his recent piece called “Creationists vs. Evolutionists: An American Story,” explains why the U.S. has seen a recent uptick in the number of people who believe in Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). Is it because of the endless hammering by the holy hucksters on TV? Is it because of the 24-hour, nonstop Right-wing noise machine? Is it because of politicians who pander to ignorance and supernatural mumbo-jumbo?  Of course not. It’s because of those mean old “new atheists.”

Jerry Coyne’s response over at Why Evolution Is True effectively debunks Wright’s distressingly poor thesis, especially the part where we were supposed to have been in the middle of a truce between science and superstition until extremely rude people like Richard Dawkins forced people to choose. I can add very little to Coyne’s remarks.

What intrigues me is this idea that people would choose to support or not support a given scientific theory based on the people associated with it. Over at the HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman, the founder of the Clergy Project, asks: “Who’s Responsible for the Evolution/Creation Controversy?” You know the kind of article it’s going to be from the start when he adds, “It’s Not As Simple as Some Would Have You Believe.” Ah yes, the old “plenty-of-blame-to-go-around” piece, as predictable as earwigs after a hard rain. But catch what he says about men (and women, we suppose) of the cloth and their role in the debate:

read more »


2012-07-02

Al Jazeera Interview with Richard Dawkins

by Neil Godfrey


2012-05-22

Barking Owls

by Neil Godfrey

New neighbours have moved in for a few months — two owls who think they’re dogs and bark instead of hoot.

Discovered them recently when I heard dog-barking sounds coming from up in a tree. That experience always requires investigation and this is what I found. Unfortunately I could not get a video of them but I captured the sound nonetheless.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Barking Owls.

The last few days I’ve only ever seen the one perched in the tree. Hope the explanation is that its mate is hidden in a fork of a nearby tree caring for eggs.

Related articles

2012-05-16

Science CAN say something about the supernatural

by Neil Godfrey

Physicist Victor Stenger argues in HuffPo that

Scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural. They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.

His article is Science and Religion. I was alerted to it through Jerry Coyne’s post on Why Evolution Is True.

Stenger opens with

I find it surprising that most scientists, believers and nonbelievers alike, refuse to apply their critical thinking skills to matters of religion. . . . . Scientists prefer to follow Stephen Jay Gould’s dictum that science and religion occupy two “non-overlapping magisteria.”

That, of course, means individuals are required to leave moral and ethical questions to “scholars who interpret ancient texts.” Provocative Stenger opines that such a situation sounds to him like “Sharia law”. Moral behaviour certainly is observable and a matter of scientific understanding. (It was my own realization that all social animals have “moral codes”, including punishments meted out to those who break them, that helped me on my own journey towards atheism.)

Stenger addresses two (of several) types of scientific experiments that have been conducted to test what should be the observable effects of the supernatural on the natural world: the phenomena of answered — or unanswered — prayer and near-death experiences.

Check the article for the details.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2012-05-09

Evolution and Christianity are not compatible

by Neil Godfrey
Darwin fish

Darwin fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Jerry Coyne’s latest post at Why Evolution Is True many of us have been directed to a Mike Aus article on RichardDawkins.net that confronts what should be obvious to all thinking people: evolution and Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths are not compatible.

Some excerpts:

If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . . .

Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits. The instinct for self-preservation and a concern for the well-being of other individuals appear to have both played a role in the survival and evolution of our species. If that is the case, then the tension between “sin” and selflessness might actually help define who we are as humans. The project of religion has been sin eradication, and that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature. . . . . read more »


2012-04-26

Why Philosophical Naturalism Wins

by Neil Godfrey

I would love to share in a series of posts here some of Jerry Coyne’s paper, Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America, for those who do not have online access to it. (It is available through a paywall only — see the link for details.) Jerry Coyne’s blog post certainly assures us he would like it to be shared widely.

Not a matter of anti-supernatural bias

I am singling out here one short section in the paper in which he addresses the claim often heard among the faithful that scientists (and by extension we could also say historians) approach their studies with a bias against the supernatural.

The idea that deities don’t affect the universe, then, is not an unjustified a priori assumption, as theologians often claim, but a conclusion born of experience: the experience that only a naturalistic attitude — -that is, a scientific one — has helped us understand nature and make verified predictions about it. As our confidence that science helps us understand the universe grows, so wanes our notion that immaterial and supernatural forces exist.

So what leads to this conclusion?

Beyond this incompatibility of methodology and outcomes is a philosophical incompatibility: the scientific view that supernatural beings aren’t just unnecessary to explain the universe (“methodological naturalism”), but can be taken as nonexistent (“philosophical naturalism”). Forrest (2000, p. 21) explains the link between these two forms of naturalism:

Taken together, the (1) proven success of methodological naturalism combined with (2) the massive body of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a comparable method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of any conclusive evidence for the existence of the supernatural, yield philosophical naturalism as the most methodologically and epistemologically defensible world view.

This is where philosophical naturalism wins — it is a substantive worldview built on the cumulative results of methodological naturalism, and there is nothing comparable to the latter in terms of providing epistemic support for a worldview. If knowledge is only as good as the method by which it is obtained, and a world view is only as good as its epistemological underpinning, then from both a methodological and an epistemological standpoint, philosophical naturalism is more justifiable than any other world view that one might conjoin with methodological naturalism.

Tim Widowfield posted his own take on this in Leap of Faith Or Failure of Reason

Enhanced by Zemanta

2012-04-13

Jesus Agnosticism: Believing vs. Knowing

by Tim Widowfield

What we can and cannot know

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly. Note: The photo was cropped, but the sideburns were not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess I have often shown little patience for people who hide behind the label of agnosticism when asked whether they believe in God. It smacks of evasion, since it answers a question concerning belief with an assertion about the state of knowledge. That is, it redirects our attention to the axis of knowing — how much we know or can know — instead of telling us where one stands on the axis of believing.

So you can perhaps imagine how annoyed I’ve become at myself lately for describing my own position on the historicity of Jesus as “Jesus agnostic.” Have I fallen into the same trap as atheistic agnostics, too timid to answer the question that was asked, so I answer one that wasn’t?

Does agnosticism describe anything meaningful?

Most atheists are also agnostics. We lack the belief in God in the same way that we lack the belief in many things we can’t definitively disprove. However, we hold the existence of a supernatural being that fits the description of God to be so unlikely that we operate under the assumption that he does not exist.

Do we actively believe God does not exist? Actually, no. It takes no effort at all to lack a belief. For example, if you grew up as a Christian, you probably lack the belief in the transmigration of souls. Same here. People might reincarnate after they die, but I think it’s extremely unlikely. So I can truthfully say, “I don’t believe in samsara.” But I don’t spend any time thinking about it or actively disbelieving in it.

If by knowledge we mean rational knowledge based on human reason and physical evidence, a good many Christians are also agnostics. They believe without proof — “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b, KJV) They have made the “leap of faith.” Should they claim to have any knowledge at all, they will maintain they possess a knowledge of the heart, a feeling of the divine presence.

So if a great many of us — theists and atheists alike — agree that we can’t know whether God exists, is the term “agnostic” all that meaningful? Well, it is if you mean it in the loose, vernacular way that the popular media often intends it, namely as a description of someone who cannot decide. Perpetual fence-sitters, they simply can’t make up their minds. read more »