Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The failure of Microcreation

Intelligent Design advocates have long asserted that while microevolution may occur resulting in minor changes within species, only an intelligent designer can make major changes that result in new species or body types.  However, cultural anthropologist David Eller argues in Skeptic magazine that this notion of 'micro-creation' fails on two levels: it neither strengthens the case for 'macro-creationism' nor does it weaken the case for macroevolution.

A STANDARD TACTIC USED by creationists to attack evolution is to contrast microevolution (i.e., within species evolution, which they accept) with macroevolution (i.e., between species evolution, which they adamantly reject). Microevolution, they grant, may or does occur. But they assert that macroevolution either has never been observed or is theoretically impossible. They argue that while microevolution may be true, it is trivial, and the major claim of evolution — the evolution and emergence of species — is either unsubstantiated or false.

This failure to account for macrophenomena, such as human life, the earth, or the universe, then serves as an opportunity to suggest that creation is the only plausible alternative for the origin of life. This conclusion suffers from the fallacy of the excluded middle or false dilemma (just because B is false does not make A true). But ironically the “success” of the “scientific” creationist enterprise, particularly its most recent and “serious” incarnation — Intelligent Design (ID) — has itself up to this point rested on claims regarding a few minor fragmentary subspecies processes rather than the macroprocesses that it is so keen to deny to evolution.

Eller concludes:
[I]n the end, microevolution is nothing more than descent with modification over the short term, and macroevolution is descent with modification over the long term. Put another way, macroevolution is merely the accumulation of microevolutionary changes. The only difference between them is time-scale. The same thing cannot be said about microcreation and macrocreation. Macrocreation is not the accumulation of microcreationist events; if it were, then macrocreation would be “blind” or incidental. You do not get a flagellum over the short term and a protist over the long term. Where would the flagellum reside in the meantime? We can conclude with confidence that microcreation fails as an explanation even of microlevel phenomena and that, even if it were it to succeed at that level, it would still fail as a ground for macrocreation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vandalism backfires

A group of atheists and free thinkers erected a billboard in Charlotte recently which simply reads "One Nation Indivisible" against a United States flag background. In a predictable turn of events, someone has vandalized the billboard and, like Congress during the McCarthy era, forcibly inserted "Under God" onto the billboard.

No doubt this vandalism was intended to send a message to anyone who supports the separation of church and state, and to anyone who wants to restore the Pledge to its original God-free verbiage. However, the vandalism backfired, as William Warren, the spokesperson for the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics explained:

Other than the vandalism, Warren said his group has received “mostly positive” responses to its billboard, including from some self-described Christians.

Plus, he credited publicity surrounding the sign with uptick in membership: “We have 58 new members.”

Thank you, vandals. Freethinking Americans appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Obama calls for prayer to clean up oil spill

For some people, you just can't win.

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show highlights, in his usually hilarious method, that President Obama announced this week that more commissions will study the Gulf Oil leak, and that he is calling for prayer to ask God to lend a hand.

My own notions are that these are exactly the things people do when they don't know what else to do: form committees and desperately pray for a bailout.

Stewart's genius is on display here.  He replays clips from Fox and Friends, when some shrill commentator criticizes Obama before the speech for NOT praying for help, and then after Obama announces that he's praying for help, the same commentator criticizes him for praying the wrong way.

Stunts like this is yet another illustration of the need for the separation of church and state.  For too many, it's not just enough that the President be religious, he must be the right kind of religious, and he must go to the right church on the right day, and he must pray in the proper form in the proper fashion.  You can't please everyone, and it's foolish to try.

My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter

"Excuse me, sir. That's a nice car you have there."

"You think so? Thanks. I've had it for a couple of months now, and I love it."

"Is that the Lexus LS-10?"

"Yes, it came with the Luxury Package, and it drives like a dream."

"I'll bet. Say, that's an interesting bumper sticker you've got there."

"Oh . . . thanks."

"'My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.' You must make a pretty penny as an apprentice carpenter to afford this car."

"Oh, heh, heh. You misunderstand. I'm not a carpenter; I'm an attorney. In this case, the Jewish Carpenter is Jesus Christ."

"Ah, my mistake. But how does that work, exactly?"

"What do you mean? I'm a Christian, and Jesus is my Lord. How does what work?"

"Well, I have a boss--she's not Jewish, though . . . I think she's Irish-Italian--anyway, when she tells me to do something, I have to do it."

"Sure, that's only normal."

"So your boss is the same way? If Jesus tells you to do something, you do it?"


"But he died a long time ago. How do you know what he wants you to do?"

"Well, we have his commands in the Bible, of course. But he didn't die--he rose again from the grave, and now he lives in my heart."

"Interesting . . . so if he ordered something in the Bible, you're supposed to obey it? Sort of like written orders from a commanding officer?"


"What happens if you don't obey the orders?"

"That would be disobedience, a sin against my Lord."

"And that's bad?"

"Of course! That would jeopardize my relationship with my Heavenly Father."

"So if Jesus said 'March!' you would do so or suffer the consequences."

"You bet."

"What if you disagree with the order?"

"Not gonna happen. Our Lord is all-knowing, and he always knows what's best."

"Even though you can't see the value in the command, you're supposed to obey it anyway?"

"That's right. I might pray for the wisdom to see why He wants me to do something, to help shore up my faith. Usually, though, I receive the blessings after I obey, and I end up asking myself why I dragged my feet so long. It's almost spooky how it works like that."

"That sounds fascinating."

"Would you like to join me in church this Sunday?"

"Oh, no. One boss is enough for me. I would like to make one request, however."

"What's that?"

"Give me two percent of your annual income for the rest of your life."

"What? What're you, a panhandler?"

"Oh no, I'm not hassling you for spare change. I have a decent job. But I want two percent of your annual income for the rest of your life."

"Are you out of your mind? I'll do no such thing."

"Well, now I'm confused. You just finished saying that you obey the commands of your Jewish Carpenter boss, and now you're about to disobey one."

"I hardly think so. Jesus may have commanded me to help the poor, but you don't look like you're bad off, and I give to my church for charity works."

"Well, like I said, I don't consider myself poor. But that's not the point. Jesus ordered you to give to me."

"Oh he did no such thing."

"Do you have a Bible?"

"No, I don't have one with--"

"That's okay, I happen to have a pocket New Testament right here. Ah, here we are. Matthew Chapter 5, verse 42: 'Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.'"

"That's ridiculous, that's not what that means."

"I don't understand. Jesus is ordering you to give to anyone who asks. I'm asking for only two percent of your annual income."

"If I gave to every two-bit charity with a hand out, I'd be impoverished."

"I would say so. But are you questioning your orders from your boss?"

"No, of course not."

"It sounds like you are. You said you would never disagree with the order because your boss doesn't give bad ones, you said that if you disobey the order you'd be committing a sin, and you said that you sometimes feel better about obeying the order afterwards. So what's the problem?"

"You're the problem, that's what! I only give to those in true need."

"But the order wasn't, 'Give to those in need.' It was, 'Give to those who ask.' It won't be hard. A successful attorney like you probably makes more than six figures. A few thousand dollars a year won't bankrupt you. Perhaps you could trade in your Lexus for a Honda to make up the difference."

"Look, you. Christianity is a lot more than just following orders. It's about a relationship--that's what's important."

"But your bumper sticker says that the Jewish Carpenter is your boss, not your friend. Aren't you disobeying a direct order from your boss?"

"That's not what that means, and you know it."

"It sure sounds like it to me. Is this a bad order, or is it a good order that you are going to disobey?"

"I don't suppose you give to everyone who asks."

"Of course not, that would be silly. I'm sure that would leave me homeless in no time. But then my boss hasn't ordered me to do that. If she did, I would resign and find a new boss. What's your excuse?"

"This conversation is ridiculous."

"Well, if you ever change your mind, here's my e-mail address that's linked to my Paypal account. You can have your bank make a monthly transfer and receive the blessings of your obedience, just like you said . . . or you could find a new boss and start living your life like a rational adult."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rapists' conviction overturned

In 2002 three Vietnamese men were convicted of raping an 18-year-old woman in Hanoi and were sent to prison for 11 to 16 years. The grandmother of one of the men contacted a doctor, Pham Thi Hong, insisting that her grandson was innocent, and asked could the good doctor do anything to help.

It turned out she could. Dr. Hong examined all three men and determined that there was no way the three men could have raped that woman* because they had never had sex. Police officials agreed with her, and the trio was released after nearly a decade in jail.

And exactly how did Dr. Hong determine the three men were virgins? By looking at the back of their ears, of course.

She said examination of a pressure point beneath the convict's ear showed a small capillary was unbroken, which Vietnamese traditional medicine holds to mean that he was a virgin. Hong then examined the other two men. "I recognised these three men had never had sex with women," Hong said.

Dr. Hong is a acupuncturist at a hospital in Hanoi. Exactly what a tiny blood vessel has to do with sexual intercourse is unexplained, except that it's "tradition." Apparently she observed these unbroken capillaries with her naked eye, an even more impressive feat than her radical conclusions.
* Error: I originally typed the word 'women'

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Online porn a hit in Utah

One concept I've heard from religious believers is that the more believers that reside within a certain geographical area, the more moral that area will become.  I recall sermon anecdotes of small towns had nine taverns and one church, and at the end of a decade the numbers were reversed.  The idea is that religion has an inoculating effect such that even non-believers behave more morally due to the positive influence of their believing friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Huffington Post has a fascinating infographic pulled from Online MBA regarding online pornography, some which have interesting ramifications for that idea:
  • Sunday is the most popular day for viewing porn online.
It's curious that, on the day the majority of religious worshipers are attending services, they are also browsing for and downloading online pornography.  While the infographic doesn't identify the religious affiliation of the Sunday porn viewers, there's no reason why non-believers would opt for Sundays for their porn viewing over other days.  If the vast majority of Americans are religious believers, as religious conservatives are so quick to remind us, and if the majority of those believers are attending services on Sunday, then clearly a lot of them are rushing home from church to check out some hot sites.

Here's another:
  • Utah has the nation's highest online porn subscription rate per thousand home broadband users: 5.47
So Utah, largely populated with Bible-believing Mormons--who frown on pornography as a rule--are the country's highest subscribers of online porn.

This is more than just pointing out possible hypocrisy in those who decry pornography while privately consuming it.  This is one more piece of evidence against the myth of the inoculating effect of religion.  Religion and morality have little to do with each other, and an increase in one does not necessarily accompany an increase in the other.