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Why the Anti-Science Creationist Movement Is So Dangerous September 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology, Uncategorized.
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They want to wipe out all the findings of hundreds of years of scientific investigation and have taken to schools, the courts and political leaders to get things done.
 

 

September 8, 2011 |  

AlterNet / By Adam Lee

 
 
 

A few weeks ago, Jon Huntsman torpedoed his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by making the following announcement: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

It’s a pathetic commentary on the anti-intellectualism rampant in American politics that this is newsworthy. A major-party candidate announces that he doesn’t deny a foundational theory of modern science! In fact, given the political atmosphere in the Republican party, it’s not just newsworthy but a daring act: polls have shown that almost 70 percent of Republicans deny evolution.

Huntsman is clearly trying to position himself as the moderate candidate. But while that strategy might play well in the general election, it won’t do him any good unless he can get the Republican nomination. And to win that nomination, he has to get past a huge obstacle: a solid bloc of Republican primary voters who are emphatically anti-science. This isn’t an exaggeration for polemical effect; it’s the plain truth. The modern Republican party has made a fervent rejection of scientific consensus its defining attribute — both on evolution and climate change, as well as in other fields — and Huntsman’s refusal to submit to party orthodoxy is likely a fatal blow to his chances.

But opposition to climate change is something new in the Republican platform. As recently as a few years ago, both Mitt Romney and John McCain supported cap-and-trade laws, and Newt Gingrich appeared in pro-environment ads with Nancy Pelosi. The party’s rejection of climate science is fairly new, and probably comes from its increasing dependence on campaign cash from dirty-energy barons like the Koch brothers.

By contrast, the Republican party’s denial of evolution is much older and more grassroots in nature, dating at least to when the national parties traded places during the civil-rights era. The conservative South, in addition to its other charming qualities, has a long history of passing laws hostile to science, from Tennessee’s Butler Act, the 1925 law prohibiting the teaching of evolution that led to the Scopes trial, to Louisiana’s 1981 Balanced Treatment Act, which decreed that “creation science” had to be given an equal share of classroom time.

But while fundamentalists have always been hostile to evolution, the modern creationist movement got its start in the 1960s, primarily due to the influence of an evangelical author named Henry Morris. Morris’ 1964 book The Genesis Flood argued, among other things, that Noah’s flood happened just as the Bible describes it — in other words, it was reasonable to believe that eight people could care for a floating zoo containing at least two members of every species on Earth.

Imagine trying to run the entire Bronx Zoo with just eight employees. Now consider that Noah’s leaky tub, by even the most forgiving estimates, would have to have had far more kinds of animals (including dinosaurs, which creationists believe existed simultaneously with humans, a la the Flintstones). Imagine how much feeding, watering, and manure-carrying that would be. Imagine all this frenetic activity taking place in the cramped, dark, foul-smelling confines of a wooden boat, with predators and prey side-by-side in narrow pens, during the most violent and catastrophic storm in the history of the planet, with an absolute requirement that not a single animal get sick or die. Now try not to laugh too hard at the people who seriously believe all this really happened.

As already mentioned, the creationist movement’s original strategy revolved around getting friendly state legislatures to decree that their ideas had to be taught in public schools, regardless of scientific merit or lack thereof. This strategy hasn’t fared well in court: aside from a Pyrrhic victory in the Scopes trial, judges have repeatedly recognized this for the obvious violation of separation of church and state that it is. And each time they lost, the creationist movement responded the same way: like a snake shedding its skin, they rebranded themselves with a new name, then tried again with the same ideas. “Creation science” became “scientific creationism,” which became “abrupt-appearance theory,” and so on. The currently preferred nomenclature is “intelligent design” (which is totally constitutional and not at all religious, because we’re not saying who we think the intelligent designer is — nudge nudge, wink wink!). But even this watered-down creationism met with defeat in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005, when a judge appointed by George W. Bush handed down a resounding ruling that teaching intelligent design in public school is unconstitutional.

It remains to be seen how they’ll rebrand themselves next, though we can be confident their basic strategy won’t change. One of the most hilarious parts of the Dover case was evidence showing that, after a court ruling which made it illegal to teach creationism in public schools, the authors of a creationist textbook did a find-and-replace to change “creationism” to “intelligent design” and “creationists” to “design proponents.” At one point, someone mistyped and left a transitional fossil in an early draft: a paragraph that referred to “cdesign proponentsists.”

But while creationists keep bumbling on the legal front, they’ve had more success in the cultural arena, by infiltrating the public schools with creationist teachers who flout the law and preach their religious beliefs in class. There are some notable and egregious examples, such as David Paskiewicz, the New Jersey high school teacher who advocated creationism in class, in addition to telling a Muslim student she belonged in hell. There’s also John Freshwater, a creationist science teacher who was fired for breaking school rules about proselytizing in the classroom. Among other things, he allegedly used a Tesla coil to burn a cross onto a student’s arm!

And it’s not just the teachers, either. Creationist churches are training students at all educational levels to refuse to learn about any science their religion rejects, as in this story: 

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.”I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.” 

Although there are different kinds of creationists, the most fervent and most influential are the so-called young-earth creationists, who believe the world and every species on it is about 6,000 years old. The young-earth creationists, or YECs for short, believe the universe was created in seven 24-hour days, that there was a literal Garden of Eden, a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal talking snake just as the Book of Genesis describes.

To anyone who has even the most passing acquaintance with real science, these myths are on the same level as believing in a literal wolf who blew down the houses of literal pigs. Anyone who knows anything about genetics can see the impossibility of a healthy species arising from a single breeding pair. A population starting from such a tiny gene pool just wouldn’t have enough genetic diversity to adapt to environmental changes — not to mention the obvious problem of inbreeding depression, where sex between close relatives results in a far greater likelihood of the offspring inheriting the same rare and harmful mutations from both parents. (For fun, ask a creationist to explain about how they believe the prohibition on incest didn’t apply in the beginning. After all, once Adam and Eve had sons and daughters, where was the next generation of human beings going to come from?)

Likewise, the geologic record shows that the Earth has an enormously long and intricate history. Preserved in the rock record, we see evidence of continents drifting and colliding, thrusting up mountain ranges that are then slowly worn down by erosion; glaciers advancing and retreating, carving and scouring the landscape; sedimentary rock layers slowly built up by eons of deposition, then cut into deep canyons by rivers or metamorphosed by heat and pressure; the same land becoming shallow sea, swamp, forest, plain, desert and back to sea again, as sea levels rise and fall over the ages. This grand tapestry stands in stark contrast to the creationists’ cartoonish view of geology, in which Noah’s flood was the only geological event of significance to happen in the planet’s brief history. Geologists knew well before Charles Darwin that there was no evidence for a global flood, and modern scientists can add the evidence of radiometric dating, which shows the precise ages of ancient rocks and artifacts and proves that they’re far older than the creationist worldview permits.

And then there’s the direct evidence for evolution, in all its sprawling grandeur. We know evolution is true from genetic studies which show that all species share deep similarities at the genetic level. In fact, by charting which species’ genomes share the same one-off mutations, we can build evolutionary trees which show the patterns of relationship between species and allow us to estimate when they branched from each other. This nested hierarchy, the pattern produced by descent with modification, binds all living and extinct species together in an unbreakable web of heredity and kinship, every bit as real as the one that connects you to your ancestors and your living relatives.

We know evolution is true from transitional fossils which preserve snapshots of evolutionary change, such as the bird-like feathered dinosaurs; the therapsids that are intermediate between reptiles and mammals; the primitive whales with legs that are ancestors of today’s cetaceans; and in our own family lineage, the humanlike hominids that show how modern Homo sapiens arose from more ape-like ancestors. (Hilariously, the creationists all agree that there are no transitional fossils and that all fossil hominid species are either fully human or fully ape — but they can’t agree on which is which, exactly as we’d expect from true intermediates.)

We know evolution is true from the kludges, hacks, and jury-rigs we find in the anatomy of living things, including us — evidence not of a wise and forward-looking designer, but of a slow, mindless, tinkering process of change, a “blind watchmaker” as Richard Dawkins famously termed it. From the useless goosebumps we get when cold or frightened, to the backward-wired human retina, to the babies occasionally born with vestigial tails, human bodies bear the indelible stamp of our species’ history.

The creationists are forced to deny all this and much more besides. That’s not a figure of speech: major creationist organizations and religious colleges require their faculty to sign statements promising to reject any evidence that contradicts their worldview. The official statement of faith of the group Answers in Genesis, for example, requires members to affirm that “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.” And when people affiliated with these groups do express doubt or flirt with unorthodoxy, retribution is invariably swift and harsh.

But as laughable as the creationists’ beliefs are, the creationist movement is no joke. They want to wipe out all the findings of hundreds of years of scientific investigation, erase everything we’ve learned about the vast and majestic history of the universe, and replace it with a cartoon version that grotesquely magnifies our own importance, treating human beings as the crowning glory of creation and diminishing the immensity of the universe to a tiny stage crafted only so that the Bible’s small stories could play out on it.

Why does this matter so much to them? It’s not just an arcane scientific debate: in their minds, only Christianity can produce virtue, and Christianity can be true only if evolution is false. It follows that they believe – and they’ve said that they believe — that evolution underlies every moral problem they see in the world, from drug use to pornography to people voting Democratic. Tom DeLay infamously blamed the Columbine school shootings on the teaching of evolution, stating that “our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized out of some primordial soup.”

The larger lesson to be drawn from this is that the religious right isn’t just targeting the theory of evolution. By their own words, they can’t be. They believe that a person’s morality is completely determined by their factual beliefs — that being a good person depends on believing the right things about the origin of the universe. And since they believe that all truths worth knowing have already been revealed in the Bible, it follows that science is at best unnecessary and at worst a fatal deception that leads people away from salvation. Why, then, do we need science at all?

To those who hold the creationist worldview, everything has been going downhill since the Enlightenment. The willingness of people to think for themselves, to question authority, to investigate the world for truth – they see all this as a disastrous trend, one that only takes us farther from their ideal vision of a medieval, theocratic state. They seek nothing less than to turn back the clock of progress by several centuries, abolish the rational, reality-based view of the world, and return to the superstitious mindset in which blind faith is the answer to every problem. And, again, these are the people who’ve completely captured one of America’s two major parties. What kind of havoc will result if they gain political power again?

 

Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime: a Book Review February 25, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion.
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4 comments

Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.com, February 24, 2010

The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, Transworld Publishers (Random House), London, Black Swan edition, 2007.

If it didn’t go against the very spirit of the author’s work, it would be tempting to call Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” the Atheist’s Bible.  Dawkins is no fan of Bibles, Korans, or scriptures of any sort.  He is a fan of science; he is a renowned evolutionary biologist; but he does not make a religion of it.  That is an important point because many of his critics have accused him of just that.

For Dawkins the dichotomy is not the religion of God versus the religion of Atheism, rather it is belief based upon evidence (science) versus belief that is founded upon faith (religion).  He argues passionately and, in my opinion effectively, against those who say the two spheres are mutually exclusive; that faith has nothing to say about science and, more to the point, that science has nothing to say about faith.  If there is a God, for example, as millions of believers believe, who can simultaneously enter into the mind of every human being on earth and listen to prayers and communicate back, then scientists who study the human mind surely would be interested to explore, understand and evaluate the phenomenon.  Dawkins shows how “faith heads” are quick to discount science when it contradicts belief but jump on any shred of scientific evidence that might verify a Biblical notion.  The case study of religious “scientists” who with diligence attempted (using double blind studies, control groups, etc.) to prove that God answers prayers (the result: He doesn’t) is both humorous and grotesque.  I am reminded of an experiment I once read about where religious “scientists” took the weight of dying individuals just before the moment of death and just after, in order to determine the weight of the human soul (which they presumed left the physical body at the moment of death).

If you appreciate the scientific mind, you will love Dawkins.  Along with a comprehensive and penetrating knowledge, not only of his own field of Darwinian studies, but in many other areas of science, Dawkins has the gift of explanation, he is lucid and logical to a fault, and he writes with equal doses of humour and passion.  He is highly opinionated, and that offended many of his wishy-washy post-modernist critics, but his opinions are painstakingly based upon careful and reproducible experimentation, analysis and sound reasoning.

I will not attempt here to review the entire work for it is of epic proportions, but rather to underscore what I consider to be some of its most salient points.  I urge you to read it for yourself.

The God whose existence Dawkins undertakes to disprove is the God of Abraham, the founder of three of the world’s greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the alleged Creator of the Universe.  By giving the reader what amounts to a mini-course in Darwinian evolutionary biology, he shows the high degree of improbability that such a deity could have done what He is alleged to have done.  Along the way he dissects, excoriates, and destroys the arguments and theories of those latter day Creationists, who have come up with a false science called “Intelligent Design” in their weasely attempt to introduce Biblical “science” into the science curriculum of public schools through the back door.

Dawkins makes the distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and his major reason for opting for atheism is that agnosticism as he understands it posits an equal possibility of the existence or non-existence of God, whereas he believes the probability is almost nil.  From my perspective it is not that important a distinction; but after having read his entire argument, I tend to agree, especially in this era of the resurgence of totalitarian religious fundamentalism at a global level, that it is important to counteract vigorously and mercilessly conclusions about the reality of our universe that are based upon faith or revelation rather than scientific observation.

It should be noted that this work is not so much an assault on the belief in God as much as it is an attack on religion itself.  When criticized for concentrating on the more extreme fundamentalists, he counters by demonstrating how to a large extent fundamentalist based totalitarian theocracy has moved into the mainstream.  But more fundamentally, he demonstrates that the kind of moderate religion that sees the Bible as metaphoric, for example, rather than literal, nonetheless is telling us to base belief on faith as opposed to evidence, a notion that makes us vulnerable to deception and manipulation.

He bemoans the fact that we tend to treat faith-based notions with kid gloves, that we bend over backwards not to offend religious belief in a way that we would not allow, for example, for political ideas.  Evolutionary cosmology, for example, tells us that our earth is millions of years old, whereas the Bible tells us it is some six thousand years old.  He cites respected scientists who accept the Biblical version “on faith” when forced to choose between science and faith.  Kurt Wise, an American geologist, for example, “… if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Dawkins would ask us not to credit, in the name of religious tolerance, such deliberate blindness (to give an idea of proportion, believing the Biblical data on the age of the earth would be like believing that New York is about seven yards from San Francisco).

Dawkins is perhaps most passionate when it comes to children.  He asserts, for example, that there is not such thing as a Catholic child, rather a child of Catholic parents.  He sees the indoctrination of children, who are incapable of weighing the evidence and making judgments for themselves, as tantamount to child abuse, an assault on the development of their critical faculties.  He cites Victor Hugo: “In every village there is a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman.”

In an interesting section of the book, one where is scientific evidence and reasoning is more speculative and open to different interpretation, he gives theories on why religion is so universal and all pervasive from a Darwinian evolutionary standpoint.  To survive the evolution process of natural selection, one must have positive, advantageous characteristics; so if religion is so destructive, how come it has survived and prospered?  One theory is that at one point in human evolution the need to trust (especially parental) authority without question was necessary for survival; organized religion based upon unquestioned belief then is an aberration,  a left-over from an earlier evolutionary stage.

From Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell, Dawkins cites respected sceptics who have chosen reason over faith.  Let us here give the final word to Thomas Jefferson:

“The priests of the different religious sects … dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation partially redeems itself February 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion.
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February 14, 2009, http://skepacabra.wordpress.com/

Just the other day I blogged about my frustration with the recent activities of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, namely their atheist “display” in Olympia, Washington and their recent, poorly conceived “Praise Darwin” billboards.

But now they’ve got a pretty good set of ads that will be going up in Madison, Wisconsin buses to run for the next couple of months:

Now these are ads that I can get behind. I still prefer some of the ones that came out last year but these are pretty damned good. . .no pun intended.

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