Tag Archive | Science

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…

Extract from What a Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff

Wonderful WorldAs I recently mentioned, I’m hosting a stop on Marcus Chown’s blog tour to promote his outstanding new book. This is going on for two weeks, so if this interests you, do head along to see the other great things that are going on elsewhere.

I found myself in an awful bind over this. I wanted to run an extract of the book, but I was spoilt for choice in picking one. Every conceivable subject was covered with care and wit, providing a surprising amount of detail for such a huge range of topics. In the end, though, I went for the opening of the section on geology, introducing the subject with a general overview before moving on to cover the details of plate tectonics, as the explanation of why Young-Earth Creationists are wrong seems to fit so well with my typical subject matter.

I hope you enjoy it. Read More…

What a Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the Big Stuff by Marcus Chown

clangersI’ve recently been very privileged to have a sneak preview of Marcus Chown’s latest book. In a departure from his usual focus on cosmology, he attempts to explain everything, from biology to banking, with stunning results.

I discovered that the entire human race could fit into a sugar cube, I’m one-third mushroom, and slime moulds have 13 sexes. I was introduced to the vital competitive advantage of sewing, the only two non-human species to have a menopause, and a creature that eats its own brain. All this and much more. It’s a brilliant read, with something for everyone. Read More…

God of the Gaps, the ultimate argument from ignorance

Big BangA recent discussion reminded me of how often I hear arguments for God’s existence that stem from a lack of any explanation for our existence. I can see the appeal of such a position, and it used to be just about the only thing I could cling to when religion made no sense. The universe must have come from somewhere, therefore God.

In more sophisticated forms, or possibly in the hands of skilful bluffers, this argument would also incorporate claims that there is no experimental or observational evidence for abiogenesis, for example, or some similar position. Fundamentally, though, the argument remains the same and has the same flaws. 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…

It’s about time Christians stopped playing at science

Planet SIf you take a stroll through the website for Answers in Genesis (and to be honest, I recommend that you don’t), you’ll find a huge number of articles that deal with scientific evidence. You’ll also find numerous arguments that proper scientists can be creationists, and a huge amount of devotion to notable scientists from the past who were Christians.

In AiG world, any scientist who believed in God is taken as evidence that science doesn’t disprove creationism. I used to think this was funny, if tiresome – the idea that Isaac Newton’s theological views have any bearing on the current scientific consensus on the age of the Earth or the origins of the universe is unintentionally hilarious – but it’s part of a trend that increasingly worries me. 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…

Healing and Homeopathy

I’m periodically involved in discussions about claims of miraculous healing in answer to prayer. My typical position, unsurprisingly, is to be extremely dubious, and with good reason. The condition being “healed” is often minor, self-limiting or liable to spontaneous remission. When more extravagant claims are made, the story tends to be hyped, at least in my experience, but little effort is made to verify details. If I was going to tell people that God made me walk again, I think I’d want some sort of medical opinion to show that even if I’m mistaken, at least I’m not crazy. Read More…

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