Vox: “Proof Of Evolution That You Can Find On Your Body”

One of the questions that should be, but almost never is, asked of all candidates during any election is my old favorite: How old is the earth? Or I’d settle for this one: Did mankind evolve by way of a natural process over a long, long, long time? I want to know if a candidate for office is among those 42% or so who think God created human beings as they are now, some ten thousand years ago or less. I think that’s important information.

As sort of a respite from the nonsense we have been seeing in our politics, like discussion of Drumpf’s teenie weenie hands or Hillary’s intonation, below is a video Vox published today that is worth the four minutes it takes to watch it. So, watch it and marvel:

Real Grounds For Impeachment

When asked a question yesterday about the “untested and unapproved drug” that was given to those two unfortunate American missionaries who were infected with Ebola, President Obama offered up what is certainly, to the goodly and godly number of science-haters in the Tea Party-controlled House, real grounds for his impeachment. He answered:

I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.

How dare he say something so ridiculous, so secular, so anti-God. Let the science guide us? Please. Why would we do that when we have Donald Trump, former front-running Republican presidential candidate, to lead the way? Last week Trump tweeted—with the confidence he always possesses, especially when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—the following:

The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!

Take that, you Jesus-loving do-gooders!

Despite Trump’s insistence that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol stay in West Africa, they didn’t. They’re here, as everyone now knows. And the experimental drug they were given seems to be working, although no one can be sure that their improving health is due to the drug or due to something else, like, say, prayer. Dr. Brantly’s wife released a statement on July 31st that included the following:

Thank you to our good friends and thousands more who have been in constant prayer and fasting for Kent’s deliverance from this disease.

Franklin Graham, who runs Samaritan’s Purse, the missionary group for whom Dr. Brantly was working, said this:

Please keep praying and thank God for all He is doing.

So, was it that science-birthed, government-funded experimental drug that improved the situation, or was it prayer and fasting? Here is an excerpt from a CNN article:

Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition dramatically improved. He began breathing easier; the rash over his trunk faded away. One of his doctors described the events as “miraculous.”

By the next morning, Brantly was able to take a shower on his own before getting on a specially designed Gulfstream air ambulance jet to be evacuated to the United States.

Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

She was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States.

By that account, it appears it was science that came to the rescue in these cases. Unless, of course, God decided to act at the same time the drug was administered. No one, not even the greatest atheist-scientist in the world, can actually rule out that possibility. It could very well be the case that God, for whatever divine reason, purposely waited to do something for his two servants until that experimental drug could be delivered to them. It’s possible.

But it ain’t likely.

In fact, it is a good bet, an overwhelmingly good bet, that if the government hadn’t forked over some cash to fund scientific research into Ebola treatments (the private sector finding no profit in it and, thus, no real interest), then Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol would likely be dead. And they would likely be dead even if all 7 billion of us fasted and beseeched God, Allah, or Donald Trump to do something about it. The little “t” truth is, as far as enhancing our personal and collective well-being goes, science is really all we have. We can profess our faith in God and beat his door down in prayer, but when it comes down to it, when we are in need, like those two missionaries were in need, our faith in science is what matters most. And, as President Obama said, it should be our guide, even if saying so might get him impeached.

And speaking of impeachment, maybe it is time to impeach (read: “call to account”) God himself.

I want to share with you an article written by Greta Christina for AlterNet (also published on Salon.com). Her piece (“Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution”) is not an attack on “extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting” believers. Anyone with an eighth-grade education and a slightly open mind can dope-slap those folks. Instead, Christina addresses “progressive and moderate religious believers” who say, “Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

She presents four big reasons why that position is “untenable,” why it “is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence.” I will leave it to you to read her entire argument, which functions as articles of impeachment against the Almighty, but I did want to offer you here an excerpt from the piece, a part of it that comes from what science, our only real way of knowing things, has discovered. She is arguing that there is “a whole lot of evidence against” the idea that God is the designer of the life we know and then off she goes with a list of design flaws:

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pegnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and as many as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

That’s a fair question. And it is also a fair question to ask why God—to whom millions earnestly prayed in hopes that he would deliver Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol from the ravages of Ebola—engineered, or allowed to come into existence, such a nasty and deadly virus in the first place.

Limbaugh, Noah, And Neil deGrasse Tyson

I suppose in a time when Rush Limbaugh may win a children’s book award—yep!—and in a time when a major Hollywood film is coming out about Noah’s ark—yes, I said Noah’s ark, for God’s sake!—we shouldn’t be surprised that the updated (and awesome) version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, is causing a stir among conservative science-haters who believe the universe was created about six months ago (or was it six thousand years ago? I forget). Now they are demanding equal airtime for their creationist nonsense.

But Tyson, who is handling the job of Carl Sagan quite well, isn’t falling for the logic behind that ridiculous demand. Further, he is making an it’s-about-time demand of his own, directed at journalists:

I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that, I think, was in principle a good one, but it doesn’t really apply in science. The ethos was, “Whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced.”…You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say, “Now, let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick. You know, I said this once and it’s gotten a lot of Internet play, I said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Alright?

I guess you can decide whether to not believe in it, but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.

Thwack! Go ahead, book world, and hand out a children’s book award to a reactionary creep like Rush Limbaugh. And go ahead, Hollywood, make a Pope-blessed movie essentially about God drowning men, women, and children in a fit of pique and Noah and his imaginary ark full of animals cruising the world until God cools off.

But you will not get your hands on science, if Neil deGrasse Tyson has anything to say about it.

neil degrasse tyson quote

The GOP South: Rush Is Good, Evolution Is Bad, And Obama Is A Muslim

A just-released poll by Public Policy Polling of Mississippi and Alabama Republicans revealed the following information, which I will present without commentary, because, after all, what can you say in response to such ignorance, but, huh?

The Armor Of God: The Republican Party

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

—Ephesians 6:11

Once again, those ungodly, evolution-drunk scientists have got it all wrong. From Scientific American:

Earth is the planet of the plants—and it all can be traced back to one green cell. The world’s lush profusion of photosynthesizers—from towering redwoods to ubiquitous diatoms—owe their existence to a tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria and turned it into an internal solar power plant.

But that can’t be. Because, as most conservatives would have us believe, evolution is not a fact and the true story of how plants came to be was written long ago:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so…

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

One problem with the Genesis account, which resourceful defenders of creationism can explain away, is that for plants to exist at all they must, as molecular bioscientists say (but what do they know?), be able to synthesize sunlight. And the sun wasn’t in business until the next day:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also…

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Now, lest you think my sarcasm is wasted on a dead issue, I present some headlines from stories posted on the National Center for Science Education website over the last two months:

Conservative Christians, using the GOP as their theological weapon, will not stop pushing their religious agenda, just as they will not stop attacking reproductive rights and gay rights. They will lose fight after fight and then get up and start swinging again, faithfully believing that incrementally and eventually they can bend the country’s will towards righteousness.

You won’t find a better description of what has happened to the Republican Party, as we watch its integrity die on the vine of fundamentalism, than this one presented by Steve Benen:

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks put it, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

The reason they don’t accept their legitimacy is because they believe there is an even higher and older authority, One who conveniently blesses their politics and is conveniently beyond the scrutiny of man, especially scholars and intellectuals and scientists.

And it is their version of the Almighty—only one version among many in the world—to which they hold fast, and molecular bioscientists, who discover “tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria,” be damned.

The Most Revealing Question Of All: How Old Is The Earth?

Last year, the Joplin Globe had a pre-election feature it called the 100 Words Project.  It presented questions to the candidates for our 7th District congressional seat—eventually won by Ozark Billy Long—and they were all required to answer with 100 words or less.

I suggested at the time that one of the questions should have been:

How old is the earth?

A nice discussion ensued and I endured some criticism for wanting to ask such a question, but my point was that the answer to it would be quite revealing.

Now comes news that during a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Thursday Governor Rick Perry was actually asked my question by nine-year-old Sam Beane, who was (unfortunately) prodded by his mother:

SAM BEANE: How old do you think the earth is?

PERRY:  How old do I think the earth is? You know what? I don’t have any idea. I know it’s pretty old, so it goes back a long, long way. I’m not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long, how old the earth is. I hear your mom was asking about evolution. You know, it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.

Now, there is a lot of ignorance woven into that statement, but the ignorance is willful, not accidental. 

Of course we know how old the earth is, although it would be technically correct to say we don’t know with absolute certainty, that is, to the minute, how old it is.

And of course evolution is a theory, but it is a theory in the scientific sense: it accurately describes and explains a large set of observations of nature and makes falsifiable predictions about future observations.  Such scientific theories can never be ultimately proven, only ultimately disproven. 

Science doesn’t make God-like pronouncements about the nature of the universe; it only offers theories that can be tested over time, and when they have been tested over time and found reliable, they become more probable as reliable explanations of how things work.

Evolution theory is thus the foundation—rock solid—of modern biology.  There simply is no dispute about it among biologists.

Which leads to Perry’s phony claim that “we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”  Even in God-crazed Texas they don’t teach creationism in government schools, particularly since the Supreme Court—before it was controlled by conservatives—put the kibosh on such nonsense in 1987.

But  the most dishonest thing Governor Perry said was what he said last, looking nine-year-old Sam Beane in the eye:

I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.

No, Governor, he doesn’t know what’s right at the age of nine.  He needs to be taught what is right. In this case he needs to be taught what science understands about the universe.  And he needs to be taught it no matter how much it conflicts with fundamentalist religion, no matter how much it might shake up Iron Age conceptions of the nature of life.

Sam Beane did ask a damned important question and he got a damned disturbing answer from a damned disturbing presidential candidate.

Which is why the question should be asked of all candidates who want to represent us. It tells us something about each one’s state of mind and the quality of analysis each will bring to the table in order to find solutions to our nation’s problems.

Evolution: Politicians Should Declare, Fact Or Fiction?

I want to call attention to an excellent blog post written by Jim Wheeler, a fellow Globe blogger and frequent—and frequently wise—commenter on this blog.  He asks the question, “How did we become thinking beings?” and briefly explores “the latest evidence for the evolution of the mammalian brain.”

It’s good stuff, but I especially want to call attention to this remarkably concise and absolutely true statement Jim wrote:

…paleontology, geology, anthropology, and biology, including DNA analysis, all present a consistent and still-unfolding beautiful tableau that supports the story of evolution…

This is a political blog and therefore I declare once again that every politician, no matter the party, ought to have to either affirm or deny Jim’s statement about evolution.

As I have argued, it would tell us a lot about those who want to be our leaders.

 

Adam And Eve And The GOP

A dispatch from the intersection of reason and superstition:

The good news is that fewer people now believe that God personally constructed Adam and Eve—the first Republicans—less than a mere 10,000 years ago.  

The bad news is that the number of folks who still so believe is a disturbingly high 40%.  That means four in every ten of your fellow Americans—likely more in southwest Missouri—have either no understanding of or appreciation for modern science. 

However, there is more good news: The number of people who believe in evolution-without-divine-strings-attached has almost doubled over the last thirty years.  But there is also more bad news: That number is only 16%. 

One of the more disturbing results of Gallup’s poll is that 37% of college graduates and 22% of post-grads believe in creationism, which just goes to show that in America you can get a college degree without getting an education.  What a country!

In any case, here is how it breaks down by political affiliation: 

As you can see, more than half of the Republicans you meet believe that the Earth is still wet behind the ears and that a few thousand years ago there were two human prototypes parading around naked and ignorant in a lush but, it turns out, dangerous garden.

The Glenn Beck Paradox, Part 2

I wrote the following in response to some very thoughtful comments on my post, “The Glenn Beck Paradox.”  If  philosophy-talk is not your idea of a good time, then avoid the following:

_____________________

To all,

I just love these philosophical discussions.

First, of course it is good advice not to just put trust or faith in any one person or idea, but to seek out all the information one can in a finite period of time.  But at some point, one has to stop looking and make up one’s mind.  G. K. Chesterton said,

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

The point of the post was to raise the sticky issue of epistemology (“What is knowledge and how do we come to know what it is we think we know”) in the context of someone (Beck) who clearly wants people to take his word for things, despite his urging them not to.  That is one of the oldest tricks in the Book of Demagoguery.

Despite Beck’s pleading, “Don’t take my or anyone else’s word for anything,” I was simply trying to point out that there are limits to skepticism.  Even science makes assumptions about the universe which cannot be proven, and without those assumptions, we would not have “knowledge” in the sense most of us use the word.

Fundamental among the assumptions of science would be the “real” existence of the physical universe (and other minds).  Science also assumes natural causation (the root of most conflicts between religion and science).  Scientific reasoning assumes that explanations for things happening in our universe can and will only be found in nature itself.  And, further, the evidence supporting those explanations will only come from the natural world, which, science assumes, has an operating consistency we would call predictability or “order.”

Oddly, none of these assumptions in science can be proven by science.

But notwithstanding the epistemological (and causation) problems in science, I raised the epistemology issue in the Beck post because it has always been a mystery to me how we come to know what we believe we know. 

Given the fact that none of us have infinite time to explore issues, how do we come to sound conclusions?  How much do we need to read and from what sources?  How much weight do we give a particular source?  Don’t we naturally give more weight to sources who share our worldview?  But, then, why do we have that worldview in the first place?  Where do we actually get our basic views?  Our opinions?  Even our assumptions?

I realize a lot of folks know the things they know because their truth meters are calibrated by their parents or priests or pastors.  But I know a lot of people who have rejected their childhood training, some radically so.  What’s the difference between those that do and those that don’t?

These things have fascinated me even before I did a 180 degree turn, as far as my political (and for the most part, my religious) views are concerned.  I can tell you what real-world events I think (I “assume”) led me to change my mind about conservatism, but I can’t tell you how those events actually “caused” that change, if in fact they really did.  Lots of people confront things that challenge their philosophy, but they don’t change their views.  They mostly stick with them.  Why is that?

I was so fascinated by this topic that I once e-mailed Alvin Plantinga, the great Christian philosopher, who is a first-class thinker and who is credited with rehabilitating theism’s respectability among professional philosophers.  I had understood his explanation of a belief in God as a “properly basic belief,” but I wondered how he could also consider confidence in the veracity of the Bible as a properly basic belief, too.  He referred me to a chapter in one of his books, in which he explains how the “conditions” for such a basic belief can be met.  Is he right?  Beats me.  Wish I knew.  I can only say I don’t believe he is.

But I do believe we have to have some sort of confidence that we can reason our way to justifiable beliefs and that what we then believe corresponds to the way things are, which in turn leads us to the way things “ought” to be.  

I am at present reading Sam Harris’ new book, The Moral Landscape, in which he argues that not only can science “determine human values,” it is our only reliable guide for doing so.  I started out as being somewhat skeptical of his claim, but I am becoming more convinced.  Again, how does such “convincing” work?  Beats me. Wish I knew. I can only say I am coming to believe he is right.

Finally, I believe in the power of scientific reasoning because it appears to represent the best hope we have of not only discovering valuable and useful knowledge about the universe, but about ourselves.

Oh, I do believe something else: Glenn Beck doesn’t have the foggiest idea what scientific reasoning is, and his lack of understanding is infecting others, as this audio clip demonstrates:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Christine O’Donnell, Entertaining But Not Funny

If there were a Mount Rushmore of Tea Party Ignorance, surely we would find the likeness of Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell carved there, fashioned by Christian conservative chiselers, who not only defend her know-nothingness, but celebrate it.

Her performance during a debate with Chris Coons this morning at Delaware’s Widener School of Law (where she got some laughs) is just the latest example of why O’Donnell is so wildly popular among a disturbingly large slice of the electorate, among those who put more faith in Iron Age narratives than in 21st century science.

According to CBS News:

In a discussion over the whether or not public schools should be allowed to integrate religion-based ideas into science curricula, O’Donnell argued that local school districts should have the choice to teach intelligent design if they choose.

When asked point blank by Coons if she believed in evolution, however, O’Donnell reiterated that her personal beliefs were not germane.  “What I think about the theory of evolution is irrelevant,” she emphasized, adding later that the school of thought was “not a fact but a theory.”

Everyone knows by now that O’Donnell confessed years ago on Bill Maher’s show that she really does believe, “Evolution is a myth.”  When she was ridiculed for that comment, she blurted out:

Why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?

Now, this is all very funny in a funny sort of way.  But when you think about it, it isn’t so funny.

There are millions upon millions of Americans who believe evolution is “only” a “theory” or, worse, a “myth.

And some may say, so what?  If these folks want to believe such nonsense, it’s a free country.  Nobody’s hurt by it.

But these folks don’t just confine their beliefs to themselves.  They often want to make them public policy, as the ongoing fight over textbooks in Texas make clear. As David Waters commented about the Texas board of education on washingtonpost.com:

Remember, this is the government body that opened its May session with a Christian prayer on behalf of “a Christian land governed by Christian principles,” a prayer made “in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When earnest evangelical Christians like O’Donnell say, “local school districts should have the choice to teach intelligent design if they choose,” they are really saying that religious views should be taught as scientific ones.  And their basis for such statements is not a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s alleged preference for local governance, but a misplaced faith in the Bible as a guide to all human thought, especially ideas about how we came to be.

In our times, such thoughts are not just part of harmlessly quaint and curious belief systems. If allowed to proliferate without challenge, they wouldn’t just lead to a paralysis in understanding our true origins, but they would lead to a larger cultural paralysis that could jeopardize advances in medicine and technology and other fruits of scientific inquiry.

That’s why Christine O’Donnell’s doomed campaign to become 1/100th of 1/2 of 1/3 of the federal government, although entertaining, isn’t all that funny.  There are still many more Christine O’Donnells out there who need to be defeated.

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