Tag Archive | Evolution

Atheism could do without the naturalistic fallacy


An atheist yesterday?

I hear a lot of atheists laying into religion (well, duh), making the claim that atheism is the natural default we’re born with, and religion only exists because people are indoctrinated to believe it. I like that idea, and it rings true on several levels. We find it so easy to bring children up believing religious doctrines that are wild guesses at best. And we teach them these things as fact, not only introducing fables but loading them with emotional significance to ensure that they aren’t easily challenged and dismissed.

Unfortunately, this belief in “default atheism” is simplistic at best. Babies and small children don’t have any kind of comprehensive answer to major life questions, but I think the early tendency to see one’s parents as perfect, infallible paragons can fit into the most basic definition of theism without too much squeezing and breathing in. And even adults with no interest in religion can still be led down a theistic line of thought by a certain stirring at the wonders of nature, for example. Read More…


Creationists are the dung beetles of science

CreationReading that title back, it sounds rude and abrasive, but it isn’t meant to be. In fact, quite the reverse. In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Young Earth Creationists (YECs), typically from a highly negative viewpoint. Columnists and bloggers despair of the distortions of leaders, the ignorance of followers, and the special pleading of a nakedly religious claim being presented as science.

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d say the same myself all the time if it wasn’t so blindingly obvious. But despite all this criticism, and although YECs are reality-denying ideologues who are either dishonest, indoctrinated or just too lazy to check out the evidence, they do serve a purpose. If you can forget about all the lying, distortion and fabrication – and it’s a big “if” – there’s a tiny glimmer of something valuable buried deep in the bowels of YECism, something we should all appreciate. Unlikely as it may seem, they do perform a genuine scientific function.
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Bill Nye takes on Ken Ham – I hope he knows what he’s doing

Ken HamWow, you turn your back for a moment and look what happens – Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is apparently slated to debate with Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, Young-Earth Creationist and notorious reality-denier, and tickets have already sold out. My respect for Nye is nearly as great as my contempt for Ham, but this worries me immensely.

AiG’s press release gives a very strong impression of how Ham intends to approach this – there’s already a strong element of bait and switch in there, with the grandiose (and breathtakingly inaccurate) claim that “observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution”, while the actual topic of the debate is much narrower, allowing plenty of room for handwaving and flannel in the face of such underhand tactics as evidence. Read More…

The easiest $10,000 you ever made, or is it?

DollarsHow would you like to win $10,000? Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? All you have to do is come out on top in a debate, the terms of which are to be set by your opponent. Oh, and you have to stump up $10,000 of your own as a stake, and in the event that you win, you’ll be landed with an as-yet undetermined bill for costs. Still like the sound of it?

The Young Earth Creationist (YEC) Dr Joseph Mastropaolo is the man behind this idea, called the Life Science Prize Mini-Trial, which he’s been pushing for at least 10 years, and is evidently plugging again in the hope of more publicity for his wacky, backward, unscientific ideas. His contention, you see, is that evolution is not just wrong because God, but actually impossible because of “devolution”, a common YEC term based on a misunderstanding of both evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

But if Mastropaolo’s ideas are so crazy, why not take him on? Read More…

What’s the Point of Atheist Temples?

Alain de Botton wants to build an “atheist temple” in London. This has a connection with some of the issues I dealt with recently around whether you could have ritual without religion, and whether similar or even identical forms and structures could be used without the religious element. I think it’s possible and reasonable, but despite that, and although I have a lot of sympathy with his preference for a positive, uplifting message, I can’t see any sense in de Botton’s proposal.

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the building would be – de Botton explicitly calls it an atheist temple, and wants to show the positive side of atheism, but all the detail of the plans – the specifically designed height, the fossils, the human genome sequence – makes it sound more like a freeform science museum, containing nothing, as far as I can see, that would actually mark it out as atheist. Read More…

Intelligent Design in Missouri: A Proposed Solution

The creationists – sorry, IDiots – are at it again. This time, it’s Missouri that’s the chosen battleground, and once again, their complaint is that science classes are unfairly dismissive of their preferred evidence-free fantasy.

We’ve been over this before, far too many times, and the reasoning in Kitzmiller v Dover looks pretty robust to me, so Rep. Rick Brattin is either totally ignorant  (aside from his promotion of ID, I mean), incredibly optimistic, or deeply cynical, blowing a fundie-friendly dogwhistle in the knowledge that he’ll never have to actually follow through with it and take responsibility for the resulting mess. Whichever it is, it’s quite revealing that on identifying what he sees as a discrepancy between typical beliefs in the US and what science tells us, Brattin thinks it’s the science that needs to change. Read More…

Rise and Fall of the Human Empire

Christians set a lot of store by the opening chapters of Genesis, and they’re the basis for various doctrines, especially original sin. I don’t think it will surprise you to discover that I don’t hold to a literal interpretation of the garden of Eden, but I do find a lot of good stuff in the story anyway.

The most important question in approaching Genesis is what form of story it is. Fundamentalists treat it as history, even though one of the central characters is a talking snake. Others reject that idea for obvious reasons, generally treating it as a story, albeit one with a message – a parable, or a myth. In my experience, most call it a myth, but treat it as a parable, i.e. an illustrative story with an intended conclusion, or prescriptive subtext. Hence doctrines such as human dominion, male headship, creationism and of course the Fall of Man. That’s a shame, because I think it’s a very interesting creation and profound creation myth when properly handled. Read More…

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