Will the Sacred Save Us from our own Reason?

I came across an article on the blog Science on Religion a little bit ago, and it made the argument about how powerfully destructive human reasoning can be. With our brains we humans have figured out great ways to ravage the land with ever-increasing efficiency and has pushed us to the environmental limits. Unmitigated, self-serving rationality can be destructive.

The solution? The need for certain cultural axioms, assumed without or beyond reason, in particular the notion of the sacred. If it is taboo to say or do a certain thing, then your create an automatic cultural brake towards all sorts of potentially detrimental behaviors. Without these cultural axioms, all sorts of doom can be expected.

While thoughtfully written, with a few swipes at New Atheists and IFLS that seemed more obligatory than insightful, it left us to beg the question: which axioms or sacred beliefs? Because it seems that the author (a PhD candidate at Boston University) already has a set of goals in mind, which means he wants there to be some particular sacred beliefs in place. Not just any. Which is very much the case because some sacred beliefs would count exactly contrary to his own goals of planetary preservation.

There has been a fair bit of opposition to environmentalism by American Protestants, and that has been the case for quite some time. That seems to be in part because of the belief among some that it is the sacred duty to use all of the resources of the earth, that they were placed here for a purpose. The notion of “subduing the earth” is supposed to be derived from Genesis, and that this was in part a reason for a lack of Christian support for the environmental movement was argued by L.J. White (1967) “The historical roots of our ecological crisis”, Science 155:1203-7. Much research has gone into this question, and it is still generally the case that some of the loudest opponents to combating climate change invoke biblical reasoning. So it seems that the cultural axiom of “subduing the earth” for its natural treasures is leading to exactly the sorts of doom that pure reason was supposed to have done.

So how are we supposed to get the right cultural axioms? If reason is off the table, we are left with what, religious authorities? Straight-up priestcraft? This sounds more like snobbish elitism trying to control the (reasonable?) masses.

Moreover, since all cultural groups, religious or otherwise, are going to have their own notions of the sacred or what constitute their cultural axioms, how do they figure out what to do when those cultures interact? How does the environmental/hippie culture deal with the slash-and-burn earth-subduers? Another holy war or two? Because if reasoning cannot decide, then what is left besides violence (a point made in part by Hector Avalos in Fighting Words)?

All of this is premised on what seems to be an absurd position, that pure reason has only one goal and cares not for the consequences. It also fails to understand that reason is motivated by what we already value, and we can have conflicting values. Obviously we want to have nice things, but we also notice the negative side effects. I want chocolate cake, but I want to lose weight. I want to have a car, but I don’t want to contribute to eventual sea level rise. How do we find the right path? Well, shouldn’t we be reflecting on it and seeing what appears to be the best way forward? Shouldn’t we be using … reason?

Moreover, reasoning is the common currency we can use across cultures. It’s about finding common beliefs and goals and then using logic and evidence to get the globally desired result. Cultural axioms fail to do that for the very defining fact that they are culturally relative and not cross-cultural. That isn’t to say the process gets us to where we want in a timely or efficient manner. Humans tend to stink at the process, and our own tribalism gets in the way. We tend to use our reasoning all too often as rationalization for our sectarian beliefs or goals. That is rather apparent in the news with the Kim Davis court battles and her specious arguments for religious freedom to not do her constitutional duties. Her supposedly sacred beliefs and bad reasons are getting in the way. (And remember, the marriage debate only moved forward because we said the current definition of marriage wasn’t uncompromisingly sacred but was relative and malleable as it historically has been.)

The solution isn’t more balkinization of beliefs, it’s being better reasoners and defrocking bad arguments and political stances. It doesn’t matter what is the sacred belief because of the consequences of her actions. Making the marriage debate a taboo is simply to undermine justice and freedom.

Now, it is true that pure reason cannot tell us what our values ought to be. Reasoning needs premises. We might find out we have stored up in our heads inconsistent premises (which is almost certainly the case for all of us), but it is from there we winnow out a more consistent position. From this we do our meta-ethics. Not from fist-pounding at some alter of the sacred, bestowed with power by mere say-so.

The Climate Change Encyclical: The Pope, The Warming, And the Ugly

As has been first leaked and then officially released, the vicar of Christ published an encyclical about taking action on climate change, in particular making it a moral issue. Reading the long document from the Vatican, it tries to lay out a response in showing a growing precedent in papal concerns about the environment as well as the morality of the use of natural resources to destructive ends for short-term gains. Some of the most interesting quotes on that point came from Pope John Paul II, such as the need to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology” (italics in original).

The production of this statement hasn’t been a surprise, and conservative voices in America had already been making statements about how the Pope should keep out of this debate. As well stated by The Onion: Frustrated Republicans Argue Pope Should Leave Science To Scientists Who Deny Climate Change. The irony is also very strong because Pope Francis has training in the natural sciences, namely as a chemical technician (but not a Masters in chemistry as has been reported, as noted by Forbes).

However, because of the nature of the response by the Vatican to take up the challenge of combating climate change, it may do more to polarize than the advance the conversation. The biggest issue with the acceptance of anthropogenic global warming is a political and psychological one, in that the acceptance of man-made climate change goes against the moral feelings of deniers. It suggests that standard free enterprise and industrial work is a negative force and requires something like government regulation or communal forces to undermine free trade. So no wonder Fox News voices are calling the Pope “dangerous” among other things. Then again, I have to imagine that so long as millions of people feel that someone like the Pope has the moral high ground it will be hard to put all of that cognitive dissonance aside. What the future will hold when it comes to public opinion on the reality of climate change and how to respond to it we will have to wait and see.

As for how to respond to it, things like carbon taxes and other market-based approaches certainly appear to be viable ways to go forward without abandoning basic capitalism–and really, it doesn’t undermine capitalism at all since it is forcing polluters to actually pay for the damage they cause and have prices reflect it (see externalities). However, other ways to combat the problem appear to have run against some points of Catholic dogma. As Lawrence Krauss notes, the encyclical doesn’t allow for dealing with population growth (see paragraph 50 of the encyclical). While it is certainly true that even without population growth the fact that poorer people want to have and will access more technology that produces carbon dioxide (be that cars or machines that have to be built and thus contributed to global warming, or the greater demand for meat) obviously having still more people wanting the same can only accelerate this issue. Also, demanding that we be less of consumers (paragraph 206) and it seems to be a part of a larger woe about technology and commerce. It is then less surprising that the encyclical saying nothing about discovering new energy sources and instead a call for less demand and more efficiency (192) and even some poo-pooing nuclear power (184), which may be one of the avenues we must take to reduce carbon emissions and still keep the lights on.

On the other hand, are the particulars for how the Pope wants to combat climate change really going to have an effect? The real point of the coverage of this story is the fact that the faith leader of over 1 billion people is calling for action on this serious issue, and it is that soundbite that will have any chance of resonating. The worst that I can expect is what will happen with Protestant response and how that could get into battles of biblical exegesis. Plenty of Christians have tried to say that the Bible tells them to subdue the world and make it work for humankind. Others want to highlight the aspect of environmental stewardship. I will be curious to see how that debate goes.

Bottom line: the papal call for environmental action is more likely to help in the long run, but I can expect to see a lot of push-back from the powers that be who want to maintain the status quo. For me, I’m onboard the Francis train.

Ethical Chocolate: Science Deceptions and Solutions

The big news last week was that a study touted around the world for showing the supposed health benefits of eating chocolate was as a hoax. As revealed at io9, the study was done in order to show how bad things are in science journalism and what can get published and noticed today in diet and medical journals using specious statistical tools.

The way it worked is this: the author, John Bohannon, collected a rather small number of subjects to do an experiment with three groups changing or keeping their normal diets. Then data was collected from all groups and a later battery of tests were done to find any differences. The problem with a study like this is that with the small sample size and the very many different tests, the chances of finding any variable change that is “statistically significant” is rather high. Note that “statistical significance” is not the same as having a result that is large and noticeable but instead is a measure of how unlikely to get that result if there were no correlation between input and output (i.e., diet with chocolate and weight). With most papers, a result is statistically significant if the chances of getting a correlation when there is none is less that 5% (p < 0.05); but that also means that if you do twenty tests you can expect one to be statistically significant just by chance. With so many tests and so few subjects to average out any statistical fluctuations, then any positive results -are at best specious since chance cannot be ruled out. Roll the die enough and you will get snake-eyes. Heck, it’s expected, and that should have been noticed by any journal reviewer or trained science journalist.

So the fact that the study even got published, let alone got wide attention, shows there is something wrong in how things are working.

Interestingly, this has been causing not simply a reflection on issues in science and journalism, but there is a question on the very ethics of doing a fake study like this one. Continue reading

Boy Scouts and Gay Scouts

I already talked before about how the Boy Scouts are considering changing their policies about allowing homosexuals into the program, but the other day I received an email from the organization about the topic. They wanted to know what their alumni thought about the subject, and being an Eagle scout I have my opinion.

In their questions, they first asked what I thought about gays in scouts, then presented a number of scenarios, and then asked again what my opinion was. For example, it asked about how I felt having a gay and straight boy sleeping in the same tent.

Which pretty much goes to show that there is a problem of bigotry right there. Are we afraid that gay people are rapists, and we have to protect our children from them? That’s just insulting, I’m sorry. Actually, no, I’m not sorry. That this is a question anyone thought was legitimate is what’s sorry.

They also asked what I thought about letting some groups decide if they wanted to allow gays in their troops, while others could remain segregated. Yeah, because if the scouts did that with races no one would complain, right? Why support bigotry in any form? The only way to potentially allow this sort of compromise is based on the religious convictions of the members of the troop, and the Boy Scouts puts religiosity right in its laws. However, that still won’t work because that reverence to a god isn’t a particular one, let alone a particular theology, let alone a particular answer to a theological question. If you are a deist, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, or Jew, you are allowed in scouts, so you cannot use the theology of one group to ban people of another as the rules are already; to allow the rules to ban gays in some groups is, again, straight-up bigotry, and it doesn’t matter how it’s supported.

So I find no good excuse for having the Boy Scouts keep gays out of their program. By keeping it in its bylaws, or by saying it’s okay for some troops to be intolerant, the program will only create derision and division rather than community–and community is one of the most important parts of scouting. So BSA, I hope you have been paying attention. The ban on gays is without excuse.

Biblical Slavery as Explained by Dr. J. Harrill

Last night at the Convergence meeting I go to with Christians and atheists such as myself, there was a talk by one of the few New Testament scholars at the university, Dr. J. Albert Harrill, about how interpreters of the Bible in 19th century America tried to argue for or against the institution of slavery based on their preferred hermeneutic. Dr. Harrill has done a lot of research on the topic of slavery and its connections with the Bible and how the Good Book was used when it came to the topic. His talk was primarily taken from his paper about the American experiments in interpreting the Bible and getting either to the anti-slavery position or (in response) the pro-slavery position.

This was a great presentation, showing how the evangelical movement of the time moved away from literalism and more towards a moral intuition approach to avoid taking the Bible to endorse slavery. Of course, he also revealed the flip-side to the use of these hermeneutics and how they could be used with just as much justification against the user or otherwise claim the position is heretical. It was all-around enlightening, seeing how both sides made arguments that everyone could see were major boners (the Golden Rule justifies your father beating you? oh, please!).

I also had a chance to chat with Dr. Harrill for a bit, and I had brought up the book by Hector Avalos on the subject of slavery published last year or so. It looks like a review of that book will be published some time this year from Harrill, so that will be useful considering how much he has been researching this topic. I also chatted with him for a bit about my own interests in biblical studies, and he seemed knowledgeable about the tiny area I looked at, all the more amazing considering he is a scholar of Paul rather than Jesus (because there’s no evidence to work with for the latter he said; I suspect he means no good evidence to work with). Hopefully I get the chance to interact with him more.

If you can, I recommend you read the article I linked to above or his book on the subject. It is a great revelation about how the Bible has been used on the moral issue we think we know the answer to so obviously now yet the holy word just wan’t making that easy a mere 150 years ago. It also helps elucidate some American history. Check it out. And if you are a believer, do use this history to ponder your own approach to scripture; you may find things are not as rosy as you like. Do it, and obey your master (Ephesians 6:5)! 😉

Giving to the Salvation Army

As we are now approaching the holidays, we are getting into a festive mood as well as a charitable mood. And one of the signs of the times is the ringing of the bell by a worker for the Salvation Army. With such ringers all over the place, this charitable organization takes in a goodly amount of money to help those in need. But there has been controversy for this group, so I have had to think about what they do, how well they do it, and at what cost there is to give to them.

First off, as the name ought to imply, the Salvation Army is a religious organization, founded by a Methodist minister William Booth in London. That doesn’t mean much about how well organized they are or the particulars of their theology. But there have been flare-ups from the organization that show it doesn’t conform well to secular needs. Continue reading

Can Animals Feel Pain and Suffer?

There seems to have been a fair number of stories related to animals and their suffering as a philosophical/theological issue this year, probably because it is something we all have an intuitive feel about yet it raises other issues.

As a theological problem, under evolution and Darwinian models there had to be billions of years of suffering for creatures for no apparent reason: no heaven for them or helping humans reach salvation; heck, no humans were around for billions of years while countless creatures suffered and died pointlessly it would seem. Couldn’t the Creator have done better? (Why have Darwinian evolution instead of Lamarkian, say?) This sort of problem is well illustrated by John Loftus in “The Darwinian Problem of Evil” in The Christian Delusion.

As a philosophical issue, we have the ethics of how we treat animals if they have consciousness and/or can suffer. If they can suffer, does that mean we need to change how we treat them? This debate will also affect how to treat humans at various levels of mental ability and development.

It seems that the escape some are taking is perhaps the obvious way out: denial. Following Rene Descartes centuries earlier, some have to claim that animals don’t actually suffer. When Stephen law debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, the latter argued that animals cannot suffer. Why? According to Craig (and his source book), most mammals and other animals don’t have a pre-frontal cortex, so they are not aware of their pain and so cannot suffer. That claim is amazingly false since cats, dogs, whales, and even rats and mice have this brain feature. And why assume the pre-frontal cortex is necessary for suffering? Cannot another brain architecture produce similar results? It’s all the worse for Craig since he is a substance dualist, so matter is not the thing that is intelligent or aware, but soul-stuff; so why can’t animals suffer if they have the soul-stuff to do it? And Craig prove animals are without this intangible stuff?

As for the science, recently there was a major conference that came to the conclusion that the evidence does say animals can suffer. You can find their declaration here.

Fortunately, the weakness of this line of reasoning is nicely deconstructed in this new video. Enjoy!

Now, does this all mean we should join PETA and stop eating meat or having pets? I don’t think so, but that will have to be discussed another time.

Help Doctors Without Borders in a BlogTV Marathon

You want to help save the world, right? Well, perhaps you can’t be Superman, but you can help with the many good charitable and recovery groups. And one of the great ones is Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders. It’s a great emergency relief group that is efficient, goes where they are needed including the worst places in the world, and is completely secular. The people involved put their lives at risk to provide medical care to those that have had their lives turned upside down by natural disaster or ongoing civil war.

And you can help them raise money this weekend. For what I think is the third time in a row, many of the big names in YouTube and atheism/humanism will be running a BlogTV marathon for 24 hours trying to raise money for MSF. They have direct donations which is tallied up, and there is an e-Bay auction of various items, from books to signed photographs to a stay at a southwestern ranch. Here is one item up for auction:

The MSF charity marathon is being run, once again, by the excellent DPR Jones of Great Britain, who also tends to run the Magic Sandwich Show. Over the years, his work has earned over $100,000 for MSF, and he has gotten excellent guests, both big names on YouTube such as AronRa and Potholer54, but also Eugene Scott, Lawrence Krauss, A.C. Grayling, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The events begin on Saturday, Sept 8th at 4 PM Greenwich Mean Time (11 AM Eastern Standard). And it will all be here.

dprjonesBroadcast your self LIVE

So donate. Do it! You can do it here or here or here. And again, there is the auction with over 100 items up for bidding.

Donations will stop being taken through the marathon later on the 9th, but some of the auction items will go on longer. And you better bid on those things, because I have; try bidding and you force me to give more.

And while I mention giving for a good cause, also consider the Light the Night walks starting this September. This is another secular charity cause, trying to raise $1 million for research on cancer. If you hate cancer, and if you are secular (or not), get to know these walkers and help them or donate. Help work with another great organization, Foundation Beyond Belief. There is also a matching program; every dollar donated up to $500,000 will be matched; that means $500,000 donated will equal $1,000,000. And it fights cancer. You don’t like cancer, do ya?

So much good to do. So little time. But if you have the money to spare, please help out these awesome organizations that really do git er done.

Are Creationists Liars?

Update: this post is now also featured at Skepticblogs.

Over the weekend, I was chatting with a good friend of mine, and he brought up the very interesting biographical story of Mary Schweitzer who started as a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) as a child, but because of interest in science became an influential paleontologist, showing how dinosaurs were likely warm-blooded and the ancestors to modern birds (which means when you eat chicken, you are eating a dinosaur!). I also added the interesting tangent that YECs have tried to use Schweitzer’s work on blood cells found in dino bones as proof of a young earth (or at least that fossils are not millions of years old), my friends had heard of as well. But this then got into the conversation of misinformation and if creationists are liars or simply misinformed.

Now, I definitely think that the vast majority of average folks that believe in YEC are not dishonest, nor do they think what facts they have are lies. They are two things: suffering confirmation bias (only hearing that which reinforces their beliefs) and misinformation (perhaps even propaganda). That will cause many people to truly and honestly think the science is on their side. It just has the irony factor that science can explain to a large degree why they don’t believe the science (something articulated in Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain).

However, I think it better to focus on the people that make the claims to support creationism, from the creation scientists of old to the modern Intelligent Design proponents. Are they all liars? Some? Just a few bad apples?

In the opinion of one person that has dealt with creationists a lot, YouTube user (and now blogger) Aronra in his Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism along with subsequent videos tries to make the case that creationist proponents actively try to pull the wool over people’s eyes either for ideological or monetary reasons (or both). He even argues that biochemist Michael Behe, best known for defending irreducible complexity as evidence against evolution, was at least intellectually dishonest in his testimony at the Dover, Pennsylvania trial on Intelligent Design.

However, I won’t simply post the opinions of others, no matter how well-founded. Let’s consider this from two points: the prior probability that creationism is advanced by dishonesty, and examples of it in action.

First, how likely is it that good, Christian leaders could promote things that are positively false yet peddled as absolute truth? Isn’t there a significant disconnect between defending a system of morality and violating the 9th commandment?  Well, that is something that can be overcome with a bit of rationalization, and not much really. In the minds of YEC leaders, evolution is not simply a scientific theory, it is a force trying to undermine the whole of society. As is seen in this illustration from creationist literature, evolution supports Nazism, abortion, sexual perversion, racism, radical feminists, and more things seen as terrible. And Creation “Science” is the remedy, or so it seems. So whatever tool it takes to take down evolution is given great moral weight. Such a precedent can be seen in the Church historian Eusebius, who advocated (from the idea in Plato) it is sometimes necessary to use a lie for medicinal purposes, sort of speak. In another context, there is pseudo-historian David Barton who is now too widely considered a liar to be publishable by anyone with a reputation (which is why he has gone to Glen Beck). He really was a liar for Jesus, making up quotes and making claims such as the Founding Fathers had settled the evolution vs. creationism issue back in the day… even though they were most all dead before Charles Darwin could even read, let alone publish his Origin of Species.

Moreover, there is the point to consider of how a position such as YEC can survive when it was been falsified since the early 19th century. How can a position be supported by educated people, given the information resources of modern times, when each and every claim said to be indicative of a young earth and against common decent are not only proved false, but even nicely sorted against the claims? There are no facts one can point to that actually indicate the earth is less than 10,000 years old, while there are a significant number in favor of an earth million and billions of years old. Can someone, let alone numerous people research a topic and get their facts wrong time and again without intellectual dishonesty?

The problem becomes all the worse considering that many YEC organizations proudly put up their statements of faith. For example, Answers in Genesis (AiG) has a Statement of Faith that includes the following:

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.

(And no, this is not the only example.) Such a statement indicates that from the start, no evidence can go against what is already believed. If you already “know” the “answer”, then the research becomes farcical. And while scientists can indeed fall into cognitive traps and fail to see evidence that undoes their own pet theories, they don’t make statements in advance of what the evidence must be.

So, initially we can see that there are potential motivators for being dishonest for the sake of taking down evolution. But what about actual cases where this happens? Let’s start early in history.

If we look to the beginning of the fight against Darwin’s theory, we ought to consider Sir Richard Owen, a brilliant anatomist and founder of the British Museum and the coiner of the word “dinosaur.” However, he was a staunch opponent of Darwin and a supporter of a theological interpretation of life’s past rather than the mechanistic account of Darwin and his bulldog Huxley. And so it seems that Owen invented the claim that a brain structure (the hippocampus minor) was only possessed by humans and not other primates, thus undercutting common ancestry. But investigations by others showed Owen to be wrong, and considering Owen’s prowess in anatomy, it becomes hard to believe he could make such a mistake. There was Huxley’s book written for those unexposed to advanced anatomy that these structures were indeed in both humans as well as monkeys, so the feature was rather obvious to all observers (including scientists such as Charles Lyell). That Owen evaded this, along with creating inaccurate drawings to hide other features of primate brains, had to further claim that the hippocampus minor was not only missing in lower primates and “idiot” further indicates his stubbornness to the obvious, and having been caught he finally admitted that the structure was in other primate brains (though with caveats), all indicates he was protecting other interests. This is detailed in the book Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog and this rather good Wikipedia page on the subject. Also, this video:

In addition, Owen tried to discredit the usefulness of Archaeopteryx (discovered in 1861) as a transition between reptiles and bird by comparing the fossil to pterosaurs rather than dinosaurs. Again, hardly an innocent mistake since Owen had been the definer of dinosaurs, so this made it easy for Huxley to expose him again. (Obviously there wasn’t much love between these men.) Owen also was not a terribly moral man who squished those that got in his way, wrote letters in the third person to papers attacking his enemies and praising himself, and was also accused of plagiarism.

So, it seems in the case of Owen, he was willing to present falsehoods in order to advance his career and attack evolution, and he was widely considered towards the end of his life to have been a dishonest man. But he is hardly the only case to present. If we move on to the Scope Monkey Trial of 1925, we can see another case there it was seen as useful to take a position believed to be false in order to attack evolution. Here we had a titan of American politics, William Jennings Bryan, fighting for Christ and society against the great agnostic Clarence Darrow (though they were in fact friends and Darrow helped Bryan in his bids for the presidency). Now, an interesting fact that the movie and stage performance of the trial, Inherit the Wind, doesn’t properly represent is that Bryan was not a YEC, but instead he did not disagree with the geologists. However, when on the stand, he did try to argue for a young earth, citing the “research” of George McReady Price, the effective founder of Young Earth Creationism. Price was not a geologist or trained scientist, and also on the stand Bryan admitted the antiquity of the earth (see The Creationists, pp. 58, 89, 116-7). So again, we have a person willing to use research that was not only outside of the scientific mainstream but even at odds with his own beliefs, all for the sake of fighting Darwinism because of its perceived moral issues. Not unlike that seen in the illustration above: using “science” that supports creationism to stop some other evil.

However, these figures are long dead and do not promote things today, obviously. What about living proponents of creationism? As another case example, consider Duane Gish, a founding figure in creation “science” and a trained biochemist. So he ought to know basic biology and chemistry. As one of his famous cases against natural selection and the piecemeal origins of biological systems, he pointed to the bombardier beetle, a bug that can squirt a boiling liquid at predators for protection. Gish claimed that the chemicals in the liquid used by the beetle, hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, explode without an inhibitor; thus, the beetle could not have existed without the inhibitor, giving nothing for nature to select, thus meaning the creature had to be formed the way it was, otherwise Kaboom! But what happens if you do mix these chemicals together? Actually, no boom. At all. You can test this yourself with store-bought supplies.

Now, Gish made this claim in a book from 1977. In 1978, he was informed of this, and though he still thought it impossible for the beetle to have evolved, he agreed that the chemical combo was not explosive. And yet, in 1980, he still made the same argument. He should have known better before making the argument (he was a chemist), and he admitted to knowing better two years before making the same claim again. And to this day, it is still made by creationists without fixing the errors (though elsewhere they do agree the description is wrong). So we have here another example of dishonesty and knowingly so.

But we still haven’t gotten to perhaps the grand-daddy of the disingenuous, “Dr.” Kent Hovind. As you may have noticed, I don’t think him a doctor because his degree is fake, a printing from a diploma mill called Patriot Bible University (which is just this trailer house in Colorado), so his title is fake. Hovind is also currently in prison for tax fraud, so he is indeed a convicted liar. Other acts of being disingenuous include his $250,000 prize for any evidence of evolution which, upon inspection, can only be won by showing it is impossible in any way that God could have caused the evidence to be the way it appears. He also uses his own made-up definitions of evolution to further evade ever getting the evidence for the theory that biologists actually talk about.

But as an example of creating a falsehood to advance creationism over evolution, perhaps the best example is his case of a supposed conversation with a Berkeley professor while on an airplane. He never gives a name or department for this professor, and the professor’s description of the Big Bang is amazingly wrong. In fact, it appears to have been manufactures by Hovind using elementary/middle school science text books (start viewing from 3:30).

If you watched, you would notice that even Hovind’s slides show that he was mixing nebula collapse for star formation and the Big Bang, which he then uses for his angular momentum argument against the Big Bang. He is clearly off his rocker and is using an encounter that could not have happened unless such a person knew nothing of cosmology yet talked exactly like a children’s textbook. A collection of Hovind’s lies can be found using the wayback machine here. I should also include that Hovind’s ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, filed many false DMCA take-down notices of videos critical of his seminars, claiming copyright infringement even though on his lectures and on his website he states none of his stuff of copyrighted to help spread it around. Perhaps then it is no wonder that he is in jail for tax fraud and trying to disguise transactions that would have tipped off the feds. However, it is unfortunate that his son, Eric, has continued in his father’s line of work, selling the same bunk, just with better graphics.

And now for one last example: taken from the Dover trial about Intelligent Design (ID). In particular, consider two of the figures on the Dover school board, William (Bill) Buckingham and Alan Bonsell. These guys, and others, wanted to get straight-out creationism taught in the schools, even though it had been clearly found to be illegal by the Supreme Court in the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard. So they searched for an alternative to avoid the legal issue using ID. Part of that process was the inclusion of a textbook called Of Pandas and People. After the school board had agreed to including ID, the books appeared out of nowhere, apparently, at the school for use in the library. Sixty copies, in fact. Buckingham and Bonsell both claimed in their sworn deposition that they had no idea where the books came from.

But that was a bald-faced lie. In fact, Buckingham had gotten up in front of his church to ask for donations to buy these textbooks. He then gave a check for the books to Bonsell, who gave it to his father, who then bought the books. That is a pretty amazing lie, and told under oath no less. When the judge got wind of this, he took over the interrogation of the witness and put Bonsell up for perjury charges; Judge Jones said that the two men repeatedly lied.

Here then we have a super-clear case of lying, under oath even, in order to get creationism into the classrooms.

Now, this post has already gotten long, but it is hardly complete. I haven’t considered the ever-present use of quote-mining in creationist literature, especially against Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould, or the dishonest editing of Dawkins or the propaganda film Expelled which tries to say evolutionary scientists are really Nazis. I haven’t touched the geologists like Andrew Snelling who gets a PhD in the subject and writes papers, but thinks all his work is false and promotes YEC to whomever he can. And I haven’t talked about ID which tries to hide what it is as subterfuge, avoiding legal barriers to teaching creationism while not providing anything that can get into peer-review (and they don’t even try). Heck, documentation shows that they really have the goal of doing all that they can to destroy “Darwinism” to make way for Christian scientific approaches (see the Wedge document). The blog site The Panda’s Thumb has also been tracking the falsehoods and dishonest for many years now. There is a massive industry of pseudo-science, and it truly looks like it cannot be advanced honestly.

Creationism is certainly advanced by ignorance of the facts. However, there does appear to be a significant factor of dis-ingenuousness on the part of proponents. And those that were actively listening to these false prophets do feel they were lied to after they realize how wrong they were. But still, nearly half the US buys into YEC teachings.

How best to combat this? You tell me!

Big Shift for the Catholic Church

Just in the news is that the Pope says it is morally justified to use condoms. Now, it isn’t for just anything, but only for stopping the spread of diseases like AIDS. This is remarkable since in the past the Catholic Church would not support condom use in sub-Saharan Africa which has been enveloped by HIV.

The example given by the Pope is a male prostitute trying to reduce the spread of infections, and this is something the vicar for Christ on Earth has said previously, so the shift isn’t that radical. This means that the rash of American bishops that attacked the Obama Administration for making them have to provide birth control via insurance for non-Catholic employees are not out of line with Vatican policy. No excommunications are going to happen on that front any time soon.

Nonetheless, it may be a sign that the old institution will get on with the rest of the modern world and not have to have every act of sex have to produce at least one child. It also means that, hopefully, the Church won’t keep saying that condoms make the AIDS epidemic worse.