Censorship is alive and well in Canada – just ask government scientists February 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Media, Science and Technology.
Tags: Canada, canada science, climate change, elizabeth renzetti, environment, freedom of information, Freedom of speech, roger hollander, science, scientists, Stephen Harper, university of victoria
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Roger’s note: Canada under the leadership of J. Edgar Harper.
The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Feb. 22 2013, 8:27 PM EST
Last updated Saturday, Feb. 23 2013, 9:01 AM EST
Freedom to Read Week begins on Feb. 24, bringing with it the perfect opportunity to kick the tires of democracy and make sure the old jalopy’s still running as she should.
What’s that you say? The bumper fell off when you touched it? The engine won’t turn over? That’s not so good. Better look under the hood.
We like to think of censorship as something that happens over there, in the faraway places where men break into houses at night to smash computers, or arrive in classrooms to remove books they don’t like. Not in lovely, calm, respectful Canada. Here we don’t necessarily notice freedoms being eroded slowly, grain by grain, “like sands through the hourglass,” if you’ll allow me to quote from Days of Our Lives.
Just ask Canada’s government scientists. Oh wait, you can’t ask them, because they’ve got duct tape over their mouths (metaphorical duct tape, but hey – it’s still painful). This week the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic and Democracy Watch asked federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to investigate claims that scientists are being prohibited from speaking freely with journalists – and through them, the public.
In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”
You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information? It could lead to panel discussions about Arctic hares, town halls on ptarmigans. The report states that government scientists are “frustrated,” which is hardly surprising. It’s like hiring Sandy Koufax and never letting him pitch.
The other thing that the report makes clear is how deliberate this strategy is: “The federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media – and through them, the general public – from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern.”
This is not an issue that’s going away. The Harper government’s heavy-handed control of scientists’ research has raised concerns across the world for a few years, including condemnation from such bastions of Marxism as Nature magazine.
A couple thousand scientists from across the country marched on Parliament Hill last July to protest cuts in research (many in the highly sensitive area of environment and climate change) and restrictions on their ability to speak freely about their work. They created what might be the best chant in the history of political protest: “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!”
Last week, Margaret Munro of Postmedia News reported that a University of Delaware scientist was up in arms over a new confidentiality agreement brought in by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “I’m not signing it,” Andreas Muenchow told the reporter. What does this mean for bilateral co-operation on research? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
The Vise-Grip on information is tightening and Ottawa is the muscle. Last month, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression released a report about the dire state of freedom of information requests: “Canada’s access to information system is in a deep crisis and without urgent reform could soon become dysfunctional,” the report noted. That means fewer requests being processed, at a more glacial pace, with more of the juicy bits blacked out by the government censor’s pen. This is the good stuff, people. The stuff the government doesn’t want you to know about. The stuff that’s kept in a filing cabinet in Gatineau under a sign that says, “Nothing here. Nope. Just a three-week-old tuna sandwich. And it’s radioactive.” This is the information we need to keep an eye on the government’s internal gears – and it’s being withheld.
Canada recently plummeted 10 places to No. 20 in the World Press Freedom Index, which measures how unfettered a country’s media is. Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, is concerned about the access-to-information issue and about the protection of journalists’ sources. The beacon we should now follow is Jamaica, whose press freedoms rank highest in the region.
It’s the perfect time to welcome Freedom to Read Week. There are events all over Canada and countless ways to celebrate our precious liberties. Bring your kids to the library. Read something you shouldn’t. Even better, write something you shouldn’t. A letter to your MP, perhaps?
Should Taxpayers Be Funding Private Schools That Teach Creationism? February 1, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
Tags: Arizona, bobby jindal, Christianity, colorado, cory booker, creationism, education, evolution, louisiana, natural selection, privitization, public education, religion, religious right, roger hollander, school vouchers, science, texas, zack kopplin
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Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education. Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy. The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.
|John Scalzi (CC BY 2.0)|
|Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.|
By Zack Kopplin
According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.
Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?
I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”
This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.
Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.
These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.
Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.
Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.
Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.
Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.
U.S. election: Charles Darwin gets 4,000 write-in votes in Georgia November 9, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Science and Technology.
Tags: big bang, charles darwin, Christianity, darwin, evangelical, evolution, georgia election, Jim Leebens-Mack, religion, roger hollander, science, write-in
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ATLANTA- A Georgia congressman who attacked the theory of evolution found himself with an unlikely opponent in Tuesday’s U.S. election, when 4,000 voters in one county cast write-in ballots for the 19th century father of evolution, British naturalist Charles Darwin.
In a Sept. 27 speech, Paul Broun, a physician and member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee, called evolution and the Big Bang Theory, “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
Since Broun, a Republican, had no opposition in the general election, a University of Georgia plant biology professor, Jim Leebens-Mack, and others started a write-in campaign for Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution.
“We don’t feel our interests are being best served by an anti-science fundamentalist representing us on the Science, Space and Technology Committee,” Leebens-Mack told Reuters on Friday.
The write-in votes in Athens-Clarke County will not count officially since Darwin was never certified as a write-in candidate, but Leebens-Mack hopes the campaign will encourage a strong candidate, Democrat or Republican, to challenge Broun in 2014.
“I think there could be Democratic opposition, but even more likely is having a rational Republican who understands issues like global warming, scientific reasoning more generally,” said Leebens-Mack.
Broun received 16,980 votes in Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, Broun’s undergraduate alma mater.
Broun’s office issued a statement on Friday that did not directly address Darwin, saying that the congressman “looks forward to representing the … constitutional conservative principles” of his constituents.
The statement also noted that Broun “received a higher level of support from his constituents in Athens-Clarke County this election cycle than in any of his previous campaigns.”
The New Anti-Science Assault on US Schools February 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
Tags: anti-evolution, antui-science, creation science, creationism, darwin, dennis druse, discovery institute, education, evolution, heartland institute, intelligent design, katherine stewart, public education, religion, right wing, roger hollander, science, scopes, senator brecheen
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Published on Sunday, February 12, 2012 by The Guardian/UK
In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education
by Katherine Stewart
You might have thought it was all over after the 2005 decision by the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional. You might have guessed that they wouldn’t come back after the 1987 US supreme court decision in Edwards v Aguillard, which deemed the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools unconstitutional. Or maybe you figured that the opponents of evolution had their Waterloo in the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial in Tennessee.
They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it’s only February.Charles Darwin, circa 1854: 12 February, his birthday, is marked by International Darwin Day. (photo: Corbis)
For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we’ve heard before. Jerry Bergevin, the Republican sponsor of one of the New Hampshire bills, says of evolution that “It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He blames the teaching of evolution for Nazism and Columbine. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of “the religion of evolution.” These legislators, and their colleagues in Missouri and Indiana, trot out the hoary line that evolution is “just a theory” and that real science means saying that every point of view is just as good as any other.
Most of these bills aren’t likely to get anywhere. The Indiana bill, which specifically proposes the teaching of “creation science”, so obviously falls foul of the supreme court’s 1987 ruling that it’s hard to imagine it getting out of committee. The same could be said for the Missouri bill, which calls for the “equal treatment” of “biological evolution and biological intelligent design”.
Still, it’s worth asking: why is this happening now? Well, in part, it’s just that anti-evolution bills are an indicator of the theological temperature in state houses, and there is no question that the temperature has been rising. New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri turned deeper shades of red in the 2010 elections, as did the US Congress.
But there are a couple of new twists that make this same-old story more interesting than usual. One has to do with the temperature in a less metaphorical sense. The Oklahoma bill isn’t properly speaking just an “anti-evolution” bill; it is just as opposed to the “theory” of “global warming”. A bill pending in Tennessee likewise targets “global warming” alongside “biological evolution”. These and other bills aim their rhetoric at “scientific controversies” in plural, and one of the New Hampshire bills does not even bother to specify which controversies it has in mind.
The convergence here is, to some degree, cultural. It just so happens that the people who don’t like evolution are often the same ones who don’t want to hear about climate change. It is also the case that the rhetoric of the two struggles is remarkably similar – everything is a “theory”, and we should “teach the controversy”. But we also cannot overlook the fact is that there is a lot more money at stake in the climate science debate than in the evolution wars. Match those resources with the passions aroused by evolution, and we may have a new force to be reckoned with in the classroom.
The other significant twist has to do with the fact that the new anti-evolution – make that anti-science – bills are emerging in the context of the most vigorous assault on public education in recent history. In Oklahoma, for example, while Senator Brecheen fights the forces of evolution and materialism, the funding for schools is being cut, educational attainments are falling, and conservative leaders are agitating for school voucher systems, which, in the name of “choice”, would divert money from public schools to private schools – many of them religious. The sponsor of Indiana’s anti-science bill, Dennis Kruse, who happens to be chairman of the Senate education committee, is also fighting the two battles at once.
The Heartland Institute – which has received funding in the past from oil companies and is a leading source of climate science skepticism – also lobbies strongly for school vouchers and other forms of “school transformation” that are broadly aimed at undermining the current public school system. The Discovery Institute – a leading voice for intelligent design – has indicated its support of exactly the same “school reform” initiatives.
If you can’t shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools. It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether.
Katherine Stewart is a journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times, Reuters and Marie Claire, and her new book is The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (2012)
New Hampshire’s New Scopes Trial January 7, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
Tags: anti-evolution, atheism, church and state, creationism, darwin, diatribe media, education, evolution, evolutionary science, human rights, new hampshire, public education, religion, right wing, roger hollander, science, scopes
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New Hampshire took an early lead this year in the effort to dumb down school students and erode the separation of church and state in the education system by introducing two anti-evolution bills to its state legislature (h/t Mother Jones). The two laws are the first of their kind in the state since the late 90’s. According to the National Center for Science Education, House Bill 1149 would:
“[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”
House Bill 1457 would:
“[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”
State Representative Jerry Bergevin, who introduced HB 1149, believes such legislation is necessary because he thinks evolution is tied to Nazis, communists, and the shooters in the 1999 Columbine massacre. According to Bergevin, the political and ideological views of Darwin and other believers and evolutionary scientists, along with their positions on atheism, must be taught to students as well. The New Hampshire Republican told the Concord Monitor:
“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights.”
He added “As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”
Rep Gary Hopper, who introduced HB1457 said that “science is a creative process, not an absolute thing” and he wants creationism taught in classes “so that kids understand that science doesn’t really have all the answers. They are just guessing.”
The most troubling and ridiculous part of the comments from the legislators introducing these bills is not only the anti science nature of them, but the idea that atheism is on par with murder, totalitarianism, and other “criminal ideas.” The idea that the lack of faith in God by an individual is somehow a violation of human rights shows just how little these Representatives understand of both atheism and human rights. (Full disclosure – I am not an atheist. I have my own faith and religious beliefs and hold them closely and don’t evangelize or prosthelytize)
In a country which touts itself as being the freeist in the world in respect to practicing religion, a representative has no ground to call another person’s spiritual beliefs “criminal.” Furthermore, if anything in the United States violates human rights, it’s the fact that our prison system is out of control, or that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed thousands of innocent civilians, or that our President signed legislation making indefinite detention for Americans a real possibility. It’s simply incredible that these elected representatives can turn a blind eye to real human rights violations while inventing others.
To boot, both Hooper and Bergevin seem to completely misunderstand what teaching evolution involves. The belief that species evolve and change over time does not necessarily invalidate the idea that God exists. Charles Darwin once said that man “can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.” Even the Catholic Church accepts evolution, with the caveat that God played a role. Bergevin’s idea that a belief in evolution makes murderers implies that plenty of his own faithful friends in Christendom should be treated as criminals.
Seven other states saw similar proposals in 2011, and thankfully, all of them were defeated. The bills in New Hampshire should be pretty quickly and easily defeated, according to the National Center for Science Education. Executive Director Eugenie Scott told the Monitor:
“Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. . . . If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it’s clear to see it’s not going to pass legal muster.”
While that’s good news, it’s still troubling to even see this debate on the floors of legislative houses in this day and age. If America is to get out of the mess it’s currently in, its legislators need to start tackling present problems, rather than rehash debates settled long ago.
Why the Anti-Science Creationist Movement Is So Dangerous September 13, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology, Uncategorized.
Tags: adam and eve, adam lee, anti-intellectual, anti-science, creationism, evolution, fundamentalism, garden of eden, gobal warming, intelligent design, noah, noah's ark, religion, republicans, richard dawkins, roger hollander, science
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?
What the latest antimatter breakthrough means August 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Science and Technology.
Tags: alpha project, anti-hydrogen, anti-matter, antimatter, big bang, cern, david wroe, higgs boson, large hadron, nuclear physics, physics, positrons, roger hollander, science, scientific research
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CERN scientists isolated a few of these particles for about 1000 seconds. Here’s why that matters
GENEVA, Switzerland — In the antimatter department at CERN, the world’s biggest science facility, a picture hangs on the wall showing the filmmaker Ron Howard surrounded by beaming scientists.
Howard’s adaptation of the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons centers around a secret society that steals a small quantity of antimatter from CERN and hides it in the Vatican.
The book and the film’s scientific accuracy was limited to the convenient plot point that, when brought together, antimatter and matter annihilate one another in a terrific burst of energy, just enough, in this case, to wipe out Vatican City.
Now to reality: scientists at CERN announced recently that they had managed to create, isolate and hold a small quantity of antimatter for over 16 minutes — the longest by far that had been achieved.
So far so frightening? Not exactly. The Vatican can rest easy, explains Joel Fajans, a physicist from the ALPHA project, which made the breakthrough. There are fundamental reasons why an antimatter bomb will never be made.
The purpose of creating and holding antimatter, rather, is to study this strange twin of matter in the hope of solving one of the great riddles surrounding the creation of the universe — and thereby explain why we are here at all.
Basic laws of physics postulate that matter and antimatter should have been created in equal quantities in the Big Bang and gone on to cancelled each other out, leaving behind only energy. That means no stars, no planets, no people.
Instead, for reasons physicists can only guess at, matter gained a slight advantage over antimatter in the fiery moments after the Big Bang. A fraction of a percent of matter survived the mutual destruction and went on to form the galaxies, stars and planets.
But why should nature be so arbitrary as to choose one over the other? Why are we here at all? And, given that we are, why are we not made of antimatter instead?
“People are confounded by this. The question of what happened to antimatter is one of the grand challenges of physics,” Fajans told a GlobalPost reporter on a visit to CERN, located just outside Geneva near Switzerland’s border with France. “It is astounding, and it’s also embarrassing, that no one knows why this is the case.
“Matter and antimatter annihilate one another … We shouldn’t be here. But we are here. There is clearly an excess of matter … which means something is likely wrong with the theory of the Big Bang.”
The laws of physics say that matter and antimatter are exactly the same, only with reversed charges. Matter, which makes up everything around us, contains positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. Antimatter contains the opposite, negatively charged protons (called anti-protons) and positive electrons (called positrons.)
Other than that, they should be the same, at least theoretically. If the ALPHA team’s investigations prove that they are actually different, antimatter will be in violation of one of physics’ most cherished laws, the charge, parity and time, or CPT, theorem.
CPT basically says that processes in physics should turn out the same even when you flip the charges, turn everything inside out and run it backwards. Put another way, CPT gives the universe a nice, harmonious symmetry. If antimatter contradicts it, other theories may unravel.
“As soon as you open a little crack, your imagination and ability to discover can run wild. Any difference will open up possibilities.
“It would show that there is some bigger, as yet unknown, set of laws. It would truly be the proverbial Big Deal.”
Fajans, an animated 53-year-old MIT graduate and tenured professor at the University of California, Berkeley, spends about half of his time at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. His workplace is a massive warehouse in the middle of which sits a bewildering array of machinery. It is here that Fajans and the ALPHA team managed to trap 309 anti-hydrogen atoms for up to 1,000 seconds, or just over 16 minutes, an achievement they announced in June’s edition of Nature Physics.
People have been creating antimatter for decades. Indeed it occurs naturally, albeit rarely. If you eat a banana, for instance, some of the potassium will emit positrons as it decays in your body. Sodium also emits positrons and, by combining these with antiprotons created in a CERN particle accelerator (and then slowed down in a proton decelerator), they can make anti-hydrogen atoms.
Last year, the ALPHA team became the first scientists to trap anti-hydrogen, though only for a split second. Even this was a remarkable feat given antimatter is instantly annihilated when it touches anything, even air.
“Basically we had to make a bottle with no sides,” Fajans explained, referring to the web of magnetic and electric beams that held the atoms in suspension in a perfect vacuum.
By trapping anti-hydrogen for 16 minutes, the scientists are getting closer to being able to hold it in a state of calm and actually study it closely.
One method is to look at the effects of gravity. There is a theory, albeit an unlikely one, that antimatter will “fall upwards.” But first the ALPHA collaboration will look at the spectral qualities of antimatter — that is, does it glow the same color as ordinary matter when blasted by microwaves or light? This might reveal differences in the basic structure of antimatter.
Sadly none of this will provide an unlimited energy source of the kind that drives the Enterprise in Star Trek nor, happily, the kind that makes the bomb in Angels & Demons. The energy economics are unfeasible, Fajans explains. It takes far more energy to create antimatter than we can ever get out of it — a fact of physics that won’t change.
On the bright side, positrons are already used in medical diagnostics, in positron emission tomography, known as PET scans. Antimatter might also prove useful in the treatment of cancer by annihilating tumors without damaging surrounding tissue.
But most of the work is being done in the name of pure discovery. Fajans expects it will take another five to ten years before scientists have solid answers about antimatter, though he and his team plan to start experimenting on it this year.
As it happens, he is cautious about the prospects of finding anything unusual. The current laws of physics are built on a very solid foundation and revolutions don’t come that often.
But physics is by nature iconoclastic. Take the neighbouring Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most famous scientific experiment, which is hunting for the Higgs Boson, the so-called God Particle (a term physicists, not surprisingly, loathe.) Physicists need the Higgs Boson to exist in order to confirm their overarching theories. But it would be more interesting if it turned out not to exist, Fajans said.
“The fun starts when theories are broken,” he said, somewhat mischievously. “The LHC is on a campaign to find the Higgs Boson. They’ll probably find it, but it would be much more interesting if they didn’t.”
Is Climate Science Disinformation a Crime Against Humanity? November 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: California, carbon emissions, climage change deniers, climate change, congress, degregulation, donald brown, emissions, energy, energy legislation, environment, environmental deregulation, epa, fossil fuel, global warming, green agenda, greenhouse gas, oil companies, science
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Deeply irresponsible corporate-sponsored programmes of disinformation have potentially harsh effects upon tens of millions of people
by Donald Brown
Although there is an important role for scepticism in science, for almost 30 years some corporations have supported a disinformation campaign about climate change science.
While it may be reasonable to be somewhat sceptical about climate change models, these untruths are not based upon reasonable scepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science.
These claims have included assertions that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation of recent observed warming. There are numerous lines of evidence that point to human causation even if it is not a completely settled matter. Reasonable scepticism cannot claim that there is no evidence of causation and some other claims frequently being made by the well-financed climate change disinformation campaign, and they amount to an utter distortion of a body of evidence that the world needs to understand to protect itself from huge potential harms.
On 21 October, 2010, John Broder of the New York Times, reported that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it”.
According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has “created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global warming studies, paid for rallies and websites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”
Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily – if not criminally – irresponsible, because the consensus scientific view is based upon strong evidence that climate change:
• Is already being experienced by tens of thousands in the world;
• Will be experienced in the future by millions of people from greenhouse gas emissions that have already been emitted but not yet felt due to lags in the climate system; and,
• Will increase dramatically in the future unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced from existing global emissions levels.
Threats from climate change include deaths and danger from droughts, floods, heat, storm-related damages, rising oceans, heat impacts on agriculture, loss of animals that are dependent upon for substance purposes, social disputes caused by diminishing resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the inability to use property that people depend upon to conduct their life including houses or sleds in cold places, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where has lived to sustain life. The very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change.
As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these dangers are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat. In fact, how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because the consequences of delay could be so severe and the poorest people in the world as some of the most vulnerable.
The corporations that have funded the sowing of doubt on this issue are clearly doing this because they see greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests.
This might be understood as a new type of crime against humanity. Scepticism in science is not bad, but sceptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible scepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from sceptics could lead to great harm.
We may not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Barack Obama’s Green Agenda Crushed at the Ballot Box
With a slew of new climate change deniers entering Congress, Barack Obama’s environmental ambitions are now dead
by Suzanne Goldenberg
But many new members of Congress are at best sceptical on climate change, and Republican promises to reduce the role of government could spell the end for progressive energy legislation and could herald a new era of environmental deregulation.
In California though, there was celebration at the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 23 by a broad climate change coalition that ranged from the outgoing Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists to environmental groups.
With 95% of precincts reporting, some 61% of Californians voted against a measure brought by Texas oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, and the oil billionaire Koch brothers that would indefinitely halt a 2006 law mandating ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are beating Texas again,” Schwarzenegger told supporters at an election night party.
“Even though they spent millions and millions of dollars, today the people will make up their mind and speak loud and clear that California’s environment is not for sale.”
It was the first time voters had been asked directly for a verdict on a climate and energy plan.
Had the ballot measure passed, it would have scuppered the chances of other states following California’s lead.
But it was an expensive win, with opponents of Proposition 23 spending $31m to assure its defeat. The oil companies put up more than $10.
And the coalition, with their intense focus on Proposition 23, failed to anticipate its evil twin: Proposition 26, which will also hinder action on climate change. The measure, backed by Chevron, requires a two-thirds majority before imposing new taxes or fees. It gathered 54% support, blocking government efforts to get industry to pay for pollution.
In Washington, there was only devastation. 2010 is shaping up to be one of the warmest years on record, but that is unlikely to weigh heavily on the minds of many of the Republican newcomers to Congress.
Obama in interviews on the evening of the elections, admitted there was no change of sweeping climate and energy legislation in the remaining two years of his term. He said he hoped to find compromise on “bite-sized” measures, such as encouraging energy efficiency or the use of wind and solar power.
A cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions was the sleeper issue in the mid-term elections, a galvanising force for Tea Party activists. It saw the defeat of a handful of Democrats from conservative states who voted for last year’s climate change bill – such as Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher, in Virginia.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it, cap-and-trade was the issue in the campaign,” Boucher’s former chief of staff, Andy Wright, told Politico. “If Rick had voted no, he wouldn’t have had a serious contest.”
It also installed a heavy contingent of conservatives hostile to the very notion of global warming in Congress – and solidified the opposition of establishment figures to co-operation with Democrats on energy legislation.
The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, once said: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” Vicky Hartzler, who took out the 34-year veteran Ike Skelton in Missouri, has called global warming a hoax.
A number of the victorious Tea Party candidates in the Senate, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have said they do not believe in man-made climate change.
Some of the surviving Democrats are just as opposed. Joe Manchin won his Senate seat in West Virginia by, literally, shooting his rifle at Obama’s climate agenda.
In her election night stint as a Fox news commentator, Sarah Palin singled out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example of big and wasteful government. The Republican leadership has signalled they it is opposed to a whole array of EPA regulations, including those on ozone and mercury. The EPA is seen as a fallback route for the Obama administration to deal with the regulation of greenhouse gases after the US senate dropped its climate bill in the summer.
The new crop of Republican leaders in the house are way ahead of Palin, with plans for sweeping investigations of climate science and of Obama administration officials such as Lisa Jackson, who heads the EPA.
As far as the leaders are concerned, the science of climate change is far from settled. “We’re going to want to have a do-over,” Darrell Issa, a favourite to head the house oversight and investigations committee, told a recent interviewer.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Liberals and Atheists Are Smarter: Study March 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Science and Technology.
Tags: atheism, evolution, evolutionary psychology, intelligence, liberal, monogamy, religion, roger hollander, Satoshi Kanazawa, science, sexual morality
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Source: AOL News
Posted: 03/02/10 5:59PM
If you believe in God and are cheating on your wife, look away.
New research from the London School of Economics suggests that liberal, atheist adults who believe in monogamy have higher IQs than their conservative, religious, philandering contemporaries.
The pattern was uncovered by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, after analyzing data from two extensive American surveys on social attitudes and IQs in teenagers and adults.
In an article, published this month in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, Kanazawa found that teens who identified as “not at all religious” had an average IQ of 103, while those who identified as “very religious” had an average IQ of 97, reports the Toronto Star.
The study also found that young adults who identified themselves as “very liberal” had an average IQ of 106, while those who identified themselves as “very conservative” had an average IQ of 95.
And when it comes to monogamy the study found a correlation between sexual morality and intelligence.
“As the empirical analysis … shows, more intelligent men are more likely to value monogamy and sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men,” London’s Telegraph reported Dr Kanazawa concluded in his study.
Researchers could find no clear correlation between monogamy and intelligence in women.
Dr. Kanazawa believes the link between monogamy, liberalism, atheism and IQs is based in evolutionary development. He argues that humans’ ability to deal with “evolutionary novel” situations which don’t fit into our natural tendencies towards conservatism and using religious beliefs to understand the natural phenomenon, mark a greater intelligence.
While man’s first dealings with “evolutionary novel” situations may have been the employment of logic and reasoning to deal with a flash flood or sudden fire, over time more and more of human activity has fallen into the “evolutionary novel” category. Kanazawa argues that people with a higher intelligence are better able to consider these novel elements and that a belief in liberalism and atheism show an ability to apply reason to novel events.
“Liberalism, caring about millions of total strangers and giving up money to make sure that those strangers will do well, is evolutionarily novel,” Kanazawa says.
The same is true of monogamy. Sexual exclusivity is an “evolutionary novel” quality that would have had little benefit to early man. Kanazawa argues that as promiscuity no longer confers an advantage to the modern male a decision to be monogamous shows a man’s ability to employ reason to shed an evolutionary psychology, and adopt a new model of behaviour.
“The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward,” George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study, told CNN . “It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people – people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower – are likely to be the ones to do that.”
But Baily also points out that statements of atheism, liberalism and monogamy may stem for a desire to show superiority. “Unconventional” philosophies such as liberalism or atheism, says Baily, may be “ways to communicate to everyone that you’re pretty smart.”
Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime: a Book Review February 25, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion.
Tags: atheism, Bible, Christianity, creation, creationism, darwin, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, god, intelligent design, islam, judaism, religion, richard dawkins, roger hollander, science
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.”