#RECIPE! Vanquished Pumpkin Soup!

VANQUISHED PUMPKIN SOUP

Take a small pumpkin. Hack it to pieces. Place them on the shield of a defeated foe. Take an onion, remove the papery filth on the outside and with one well-place blow, cleave it. Place the halves with the pumpkin. Find a bulb of garlic. FOOL! Put that crusher down. Place the whole bulb on the shield. Oil everything. Add salt and pepper. Roast in the flames of the burning hall of your enemy until all is softer than a shield-maiden’s cheek.

In the meantime prepare a litre of stock in the upturned helmet of the hated scum-lord whose village now lies in ruins. FOOL! Remove his head from it first!

Now wait, recalling every sword-stroke of your victory, savouring the memory of the screams of each fallen enemy. Anticipate meeting friend and foe again in Odin’s Hall in Valhalla to feast, fight, die and be reborn for eternity.

FOOL! The vegetables almost burned during your reverie! You should’ve had one of your thralls watching them if you were going to sit there like a sentimental old man with tears in his eyes.

Now, take the pumpkin shards and put them in the hot stock. Hack the roasted onion into small pieces. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from their flaky, useless ghastliness. Put them and the onion pieces into the stock with the pumpkin. Now, take your hand-blender (or your axe, if you like making things difficult for yourself) and turn it all into a thick orange potion that would nourish Thor himself on the longest night of winter.

Pour into helmets, garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with hot bread rolls. What? You didn’t have bread rolls warming next to the shield of your fallen enemy that carried the hacked pumpkin while it was roasting? FOOL!

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The “hoax” of #evolution [@pzmyers]

Often, when reading comments on websites, you encounter trolls – people who are there solely to stir shit and gain attention (in other news, the Pope lives in a gentrified car park in Rome). But when the website is of a scientific bent and especially if it discusses evolution, you will – that, is you definitely, absolutely & mathematically 100% will – encounter creationists. They might not be Genesis-believers who cling desperately to a 6,000 year-old Earth, like the dinosaurs presumably did to driftwood as the magic zoo-boat floated past them on a slick of animal faeces, but you will see them in some form. Today’s sub-species is the Conspiracy Theorist – the creationist who maintains not only that evolution is false, but that it is a purposeful hoax perpetrated by godless scientists.

I saw a Hoaxist today in the comments of a particularly bad Big Think post entitled “The Trouble With Darwin“, in which the author, Kas Thomas, regurgitates a bunch of oft-debunked creationist/intelligent design canards, dismisses all critics as “haters” without responding to any of them and touts his credentials (then complains that people accuse him of behaving like a creationist!). That’s by the by, though, and more capable critics than I have given it a good thrashing. The comments, hearteningly, are overwhelmingly negative, taking the author to task for his misconceptions and misrepresentations of evolution, but there’s always (at least) one creationist who thinks he’s got the Truth. The Hoaxist, named Aussiefriend, posted this little gem of foil-hattery:


Can I ask if you have ever read the peer-reviewed Journal of Creation? Can you name another two creation peer reviewed journals? Have you read any of these? Have you read “The Greatest Show in Earth” [by R. Dawkins]? I’d be surprised if you haven’t. But have you read its refutation, “The Greatest Hoax on Earth”? I think the amazing thing is that evolutionists will write a book or blog attacking creation but not cite one recent creation work.

Leaving aside the laughable claim that the Journal of Creation (a Creation Ministries International vanity rag) is “peer-reviewed” in anything approaching the sense that actual scientific journals are, I searched for the book, “The Greatest Hoax on Earth” (which, for the record, I’d be happy to read but there’s no way in Hell I’m paying money for it – especially not when there are people wearing sandwich boards giving away religious tracts [which this almost certainly is] on the streets for nothing). Continuing the well-known creationist trope of aping the titles of successful science books, it’s written by Johnathan Sarfati, who is unsurprisingly a chemist (I’m unsurprised because evo-denialists are almost inariably never biologists). If you’re interested in how Sarfati has fared in his long career of denying the facts of evolution, perform a search for his name (No Answers In Genesis has a list of articles – some are a few years old but nonetheless give a good picture of his facile arguments).

Anyway, it spurred a thought in me which got me thinking about the practicalities of hoaxes and conspiracies, and so I replied [I’ve made some small edits & extensions to my original comment]:


So, evolution is a hoax? Okay. Hoaxes are generally done either just to troll the public [or a specific set of people, a la Alan Sokal trolling post-modernist wankers in the most epic fashion possible] for a laugh or perhaps to conceal truths considered dangerous to the hoaxers. Now, the vast, overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists, schools, universities, governing bodies and governments accept evolution is true. Study of evolution doesn’t just inform people about abstract realities of nature, it leads among other things to advances in medical interventions that could save, prolong and improve countless lives. It leads to more durable crops & better-informed agricultural practices, more effective environmental care and its closely associated (and cross-confirmatory) fields of palaentology and geology allow people to make informed decisions about where to look for natural resources – in short it leads to tangible, measurable benefits to our species as a whole. Because it works. It’s not an isolated field of study on its own either – because it employs the scientific method it’s confirmed by every other branch of science – and if it wasn’t true and didn’t work, scientists would modify it in line with reality or abandon it wholesale. Scientists care only about what works, irrelevant of ideology.

Yet you want people to accept that a small minority of Christians (fringe-dwellers even in their own faith, much less humanity at large) have the actual truth but it’s being suppressed by – well, how many people would it take? Hundreds of millions of people from schoolteachers to heads of state across nearly every nation on Earth? For what reason? Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy unravelled in a matter of months yet it involved a very small number of people. Snowden, Manning and Assange have revealed to the world the dark inner workings of entire governments. How is a conspiracy that would necessarily involve the majority of educated people on this planet, all actively suppressing something they know to be false, supposed to function? Humans simply aren’t capable of that kind of secrecy. If it could, what is the actual purpose of protecting the “dogma” of evolution from the “truth” of creation? I’ve already said that scientists use whatever methods work; it’s ludicrous to label them as dogmatic to the point of hindering the advancement of their own fields of inquiry.

There’s a world-famous prize available for people who contribute vastly to scientific understanding – especially if that contribution overturns an established idea with a more powerful explanation and opens up new areas of inquiry. If someone could demonstrate – not just argue in some vanity journal but actually demonstrate – not only that evolution wasn’t true but that Creation was, they’d not only win that prize and the associated millions, they’d be lauded forever as a scientific game-changer and their work would reverberate throughout science for years to come. There’s a reason people still talk about people like Aratosthenes, Archimedes, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton & Darwin – and it’s not because of centuries of conspiracies carried on by countless millions of people. Like I said, scientists follow the data and use whatever works – if evolution was a hoax, someone (besides a creationist stooge) would’ve outed it by now and we’d be using its replacement.

This isn’t just a rant, either: I would really like to know, from someone in the know, what scientists could possibly hope to gain (or protect) by hoaxing the world with evolution*. Science simply doesn’t function like theology or politics – certainly, there are always going to be egos involved and some people have gone to great lengths to protect cherished ideas, but in the end the truth always wins out.

Again, scientists use what works, discard what doesn’t and incorporate modifications to existing paradigms when necessary. It’s why physicists didn’t completely discard Newton after Einstein, or Einstein after Hawking. And it’s why biologists haven’t discarded Darwin, even though he was mistaken about the nature of heredity, for just one example (he had no conception of DNA & genetics). Science is utilitarian and descriptive, not dogmatic and prescriptive. In short, it’s not religion.

___________________________________________________
*Lest anyone bring up Nebraska Man or Piltdown Man as examples of evolutionary hoaxes, let me point out, just for the record, that those hoaxes were perpetrated by non-scientists and exposed by real scientists. Not creationists. Even on the rare occasions that scientists do try and hoodwink their community or the public (remember the cold fusion hoax from the 1990s?), it’s always – always – other scientists that expose them. If someone could point me to a situation where a scientist has tried to pull off a hoax but been outed by a non-scientist or, better yet, a theologian, I’m all ears.

EDIT 03/07/2014: Cubist points out in the comments that the Nebraska Man incident (in which a tooth was assumed to be proto-human in 1922; the claim was retracted in 1927 – the tooth was that of an extinct peccary) was in fact an error, not a deliberate forgery (linkage).

That of course doesn’t stop many creationists using it as an example of the weakness of evolutionary science, despite the fact that the error was discovered and corrected by scientists five years after the tooth’s submission for study. In palaeontological terms this is actually very rapid. On a Young-Earth Creationist time-scale, well, think about this: the ~8 million species on Earth had to have hyper-evolved from proto-ancestors in the four thousand years since Noah’s flood. Noted Genesis idolator Ken Ham has, ahem, floated the hypothesis that Noah took “kinds” of animals onto the Ark, not individual species, in order to save space – these “kinds” then must have diverged as they repopulated the globe, speciating like mad buggers (so, clearly, evolution is A-OK  with Ken Ham as long as God is injecting meth into its eyeballs). To get from there to where we are now, that’s two thousand new speciation events every year – or ten thousand new species evolving in the same time-frame that it took Nebraska Man’s tooth to be revealed for the swine-molar that it was, or 38 new species evolving between weekly sermons at Ken’s Creation “Museum”. Ken Ham complains that there aren’t enough transitional fossils to make a good case for evolution – well, if his hyper-evolution notion is even remotely credible, we really should be knee-deep in bones at every conceivable stage of transitioning between his “kinds” and all the extant species we see today. You simply don’t go from a few thousand critters on a barge in Turkey to 8 million different species across the globe and filling the oceans, lakes, rivers and billabongs in four millennia without some deaths and extinctions. Just thinking about the evolution of lions and their numerous prey species from Ham’s proto-cat and proto-ungulate “kinds” makes my head hurt. God must be one heck of a Spore player.

One dead, dozens injured following Manus Island riot

We asked not long ago if things could possibly get any worse in our overcrowded, under-resourced, inhumane tropical prison camps – sorry, “detention centres”. Our answer arrived this morning.

Following a breakout featuring machete-wielding security personnel and locals (!), one person is dead and almost eighty others have sustained injuries (including a bullet wound). News of the riot comes just days after an Indian student committed suicide while in detention after overstaying a visa, placing the spotlight squarely on Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison and the highly questionable detention policies of his department.

These deaths in custody aren’t just the fault of the current Liberal government, they are the legacy of Liberal PM John Howard’s 2001 decision to begin processing asylum seekers offshore – a decision upheld and expanded upon by successive Labor governments after Kevin Rudd’s election in 2007 and now turned into a tragic farce by the Abbott government.

This loss of control and tragic loss of life shames both parties beyond words and it shames our nation. Action needs to be drastic and immediate.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Demand in person that the government move the 1300 (remaining) asylum seekers to properly staffed and maintained facilities on the mainland and ensure prompt processing/repatriation.

Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison’s office:  +61 2 9523 0339

http://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

NOTE:

Remember to be nice. Can’t have people being uncivil toward fellow human beings, now, can we?

What would it take to convince me that God exists? God knows.

In my brief career as one of those guys who occasionally enters comment threads (either at sciencey blogs where Christians frequently invite themselves to start evangelising or at atheisty ones where they do exactly the same thing) I’ve been asked this a few times; I’ve also seen it asked of countless other heathens, well-known and otherwise: “What would it take to convince you that God exists?” My usual answer begins with a variation of “a working definition of exactly what we’re talking about would be a good start – then we can discuss the options open to either the god in question or those who take on the burden of evangelising for him.” Frequently, it turns out (surprise, surprise) that it’s the omniscient, omnipotent God of European Christianity (as formulated in the fifth century CE and continually revised since) that’s under discussion – but you could use this response or a variant of it for just about any theistic god purported to exist.

If the god in question is, in fact, omniscient, then that god knows exactly what it would take to convince me that he exists without – and this is important, because proof apparently denies faith – negating or harming my free will in any way. He’d know, for example, that taking even mundane, trivial claims purely on faith isn’t something I do lightly, let alone claims that an omni-everything universe-creator cares, for example, what I eat or who I sleep with (or that he doesn’t care at all – this god’s interpreters confuse more than they clarify, which is an observation an omni-God would know that I’ve made many times and which counts greatly against the veracity and power of the various scriptures attributed to him). In fact (and an omni-God should know this all too well), the vague, contradictory, anachronistic and often brutal nature of the scriptures affects my “free will” anyway – by convincing me that they’re simply not reliable sources of either fact or moral guidance.

The fact that I’m still not convinced God exists tells me that God can’t do it, won’t do it, hasn’t done it (presumably for his own reasons), or that God isn’t there – either in any form that can affect the universe or communicate with me, or in any form at all.

But I could be convinced. In theory.

Nye/Ham followup: Kute Kreationist Kwestions!

At the recent Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, Buzzfeed feedbuzzer Matt Stopera asked self-identifying creationists to ask a question to non-creationists. They wrote them on cardboard, smiled prettily and Matt took their pictures which can be seen here.

I thought I’d have a go at answering them, so without further ado:

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

I can’t answer for Bill, but I’d say that he is because he’s telling them the truth about science – what is known, how it’s known and what isn’t known. The same courtesy is not extended to science by Ken Ham, who not only lies through his teeth about science but also has a history of blaming societal ills (at least as he defines them) on the acceptance of evolution.

2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

Well, no. There’s no evidence that there is one – but if it’s something I should be scared of, it’s clearly something I should steer well clear of. No relationship that has fear at its core is a healthy one, with a real entity or otherwise.

3. Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? I.e. trees created with rings…Adam created as an adult.

Well, considering there’s literally no evidence to support that claim, it’s certainly not logical to believe it. As for God creating the Universe & Earth to just appear old, that doesn’t make much logical sense – it just begs the question why God would want to deceive us in that way if he wanted us to trust, love and worship him.

4. Does not the Second Law of Thermodynamics disprove evolution?

For anyone who didn’t take (or just ignored) high school physics (which would be pretty much all creationists who ask this question), the 2LOT can be summarised as “A closed system tends toward disorder.” The question assumes that the Earth is a closed system, i.e. it has no external; source of energy; as a result, populations of organisms cannot become “more complex” (i.e. evolve) because there is no external source of energy constantly entering the Earth-system for organisms to utilise.

Oh, except there is, and we call it THE SUN. That enormous ball of incandescent plasma which has bombarded the planet with radiation for 4.5 billion years. Radiation which powers plants and fungii and microorganisms, which are eaten by animals, which eat each other, which are themselves prey to microorganisms and which are all, without exception, subject to evolutionary mechanisms such as mutations and natural selection (some are subject to artificial selection, AKA selective breeding, which a short way of saying that humans actively evolve animals toward certain ends).

Try this: next time a creationist asks you about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, have a little fun and ask them if they know the First and Third!

5. How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

Is this actually a serious question? If so, I’d be thinking about remedial English before worrying about how God makes sunsets (do you honestly think God is making purty colours just so you can look at them? Grow up).

Look, OK, I’ll bite: a sunset is the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum refracting through the Earth’s atmosphere/clouds/smog/other airborne particles. Oh, and the bubbles of air in your muffins are made by carbon dioxide which is released by baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate) during the baking process – they aren’t carved out by muffin pixies with tiny little pickaxes.

6. If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

First, they don’t. The formulation of the BBT was done in line with the understanding of thermodynamics. Second, see question four. Then go and ask your high school science teachers if they’ll let you back in for a semester.

7. What about Noetics?

I had to search for this on the interweb. It seems like a neo-spiritual alternative theory of mind. It sounds like unevidenced wishful thinking (or thinkful wishing), like most mind/body dualism. But, gosh, is that a catchy sciencey title!

8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

Do I need to? Can’t whatever meaning I derive from my life be completely up to me; i.e. subjective? Does my life even need “meaning”? Can you demonstrate that “objective meaning” even exists and that I need it, much less that it derives from worshipping a deity, whose existence I’d also like to see a plausible case for? This generates more damn questions than it does answers – oh, here’s another: what exactly the heck does this have to do with evolution and creation?

9. If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

The truth is that nobody knows for sure (an honest answer, which you won’t get from Ken Ham). There are ideas about the first simple self-replicating molecules forming protective coatings in the early Earth which allowed them to survive longer and reproduce more effectively compared to their neighbours, but the exact mechanism isn’t known for sure. What is known for sure is that you won’t find the answer at Ken Ham’s Creation-Peddling Facility. I’ll bet four hundred quatloos that if/when the answer is discovered, it won’t be a creationist doing the discovering.

10. I believe in the Big Bang Theory…God said it and BANG it happened.

Oh, you’re adorable! But that’s not a question. Go to the back of the line.

11. Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists[sic]/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a Creator God but embrance the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

Wow. You do know that a religious person can be a secularist, right? And you do know that “humanist” is derived from the word “human”, right? And the “there” you’re looking for is “there”, not “their”? Another candidate for remedial English.

Anyway, people reject the idea of creator gods because there’s no evidence to support the claim that they exist (no, you can’t use the Bible as evidence that the claims made by the Bible are true) and tons of evidence to support the idea that the universe and its inhabitants formed naturally over a very long time. As for embracing extra-terrestrial intelligent designers, you’d have to look pretty hard to find a non-religious person who actually swallows any of that crap. They’re out there, but they’re more of a minority among non-believers than creationist talking-point-regurgitators like you are in Christianity.

12. There is no in between…the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an “official proof.”

This is referring to Lucy, the most famous Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, found in northern Africa and dated to around 3 million years ago. First, “only a few pieces” is bollocks as the skeleton was 40% complete. Second, if you’d just take your head out of … the Bible, you’d learn (yes, learn! Fear not!) that there are dozens of “in betweens” and the “proof” that humans evolved and that we’re not just related to apes but actually are apes has been “official” for over a century.

13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

Metamorphosis, for those who don’t get out much, is the process of major physical transformation, common in insects like butterflies and moths as well as amphibians such as frogs. Does it support evolution? That’s a poorly-worded question, but the answer is “yes”. It’s a biological mechanism. It confirms to natural laws as they are understood and does not pose a challenge to evolution.

14. If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.

Question mark?

Anyway, the theory of evolution (descent with modification, acted upon by the environment and other factors, leads to diversity within populations of organisms as well as to speciation) is the explanation of the observed fact of evolution (animals are different to their parents; some species are extinct, have left descendants or have changed radically, as revealed by genetics and the fossil record). TL;DR: in science, a theory is the explanation of an observation. The Theory of Evolution is the explanation, supported by evidence, of the fact of evolution. It is testable, observable and falsifiable. It has been tested, observed and has not been falsified (but it could be).

On the other hand, creationism isn’t a theory (it’s barely even a quaint notion). “God did it” isn’t backed up by evidence of any kind. When you can explain literally everything by “God did it”, you explain precisely nothing. All you’ve done is beg more questions, the most pressing being “whence God?” – and if your answer to that is “Always!” then further discussion with you is pointless. The Bible is also not “a theory”, because the Bible is a book (unfortunately it seems that it’s the only book these people ever read, judging by their frequently tenuous grip on English).

15. Because science is by definition a “theory” – not testable, observable nor repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

First: science is not “by definition a theory”. It’s more than that – science is the body of knowledge of the universe; science is also the methods used to gain that knowledge: observation, data collection, hypothesis, experimentation, theorising etc. Science is a collection of observed data and the theories, supported by evidence, which explain those data. I suspect this person was referring to “evolution” being only a theory, however – so see the previous question.

Second: everyone (including Christians) should damn well object to creationism and/or intelligent design being taught as fact in American state schools simply on principle; the principles you’d appeal to when objecting to the teaching of astrology or alchemy. Creationism is not only not science and unevidenced, it is also an explicitly sectarian religious doctrine and as such violates the Constitution (as has been the judgement in every. single. court case in which creationists have been caught attempting to insert creationism into science classes – not only that, but intelligent design advocates have suffered similar fates, as it was revealed that the intelligent design movement was merely a clumsy rebranding of creationism which employed more or less the same tactics). I suspect many of these creationists are also patriots, which makes me wonder why they’d want to undermine the supreme law of their own country.

16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

Who says “information” (however that is actually defined; it seems to vary between creationists and intelligent design creationists according to their purposes) either does or has to increase during either mutations or the evolutionary process at large? Mutations are simply a minute change to an organism’s DNA, either during sexual or asexual reproduction. Simply, all that is required for evolution to occur is (1) an alteration in existing material (a mutation) and (2) a selection pressure, which will show whether the mutation is beneficial to the reproductive fitness of the individual, detrimental or neutral. If beneficial, the individual’s offspring may inherit it and may themselves enjoy better reproductive fitness than their neighbours. There is nothing that says evolution is necessarily an “increase in genetic information.” I’d like to ask if this creationist even knows the amount of “information” in an apple, compared to a squid or a human, or why we have a smaller genome (3.2 billion base pairs) than a lungfish (130 billion base pairs). Is God really so inefficient that’d he’d stick over sixty times as much “information” in a fancy fish as he needs to make people? Are they just spare parts?

17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

In other words, why I am I here if not to spend my life in fear of the Hell God made to send people to if they don’t believe he had himself executed in order to spare us from the Hell he made and doomed us to because an ancient ancestor was conned into eating some fruit by a talking snake?

But, seriously, this talk of “meaning” and “purpose” is tiresome. Can we not simply live our lives and try and be happy and decent to each other without there having to be a man behind the curtain or a ghost in the machine? My “purpose” is what I choose it to be. Right now, it’s answering vapid questions. In a few minutes, it’ll be making hot chocolate.

18. Why have we found only 1 “Lucy”, when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

This really is a stupid question (especially because in many cases we haven’t found more than one of everything else – Tiktaalik anyone?). Nevertheless, the answer is BECAUSE WE HAVEN’T FOUND ANY OTHERS YET. Why were you born in your country while most of the world was born in another country? CHECKMATE – AMERICA DOESN’T EXIST!

19. Can you believe in “the big bang” without “faith”?

Yes. Because there is evidence to suggest that it actually occurred, and you don’t need faith if you have evidence.

20. How can you look at the world and not believe Someone Created/thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!

It is amazing. Frequently, mind-blowingly so. It can also be, frankly, fucking horrible. If it was all amazing, all the time, it might be worth thinking about how it came to be that way. But it isn’t. Apart from all the nasty things people do to each other and that nature does to people, nature itself is a serial killer. The world is littered with the bones of countless animals who died for no reason and whose species went extinct. Every day, animals maim and kill and eat other animals just so they themselves don’t die. There are creatures that burrow into other creatures, lay their eggs and have their offspring eat the host alive from the inside and then burrow out of them to continue the cycle. If you’re right, your “Someone” designed it that way – which is hideous.

To answer: I don’t believe this world was created by “Someone” because there’s no reason for me to. The current body of understanding regarding the formation of our universe, our planet and its biodiversity points in exactly the opposite direction: natural causes. The evidence that “Someone” put it all together is contained in one completely unreliable, cobbled-together and infinitely malleable false history written by genocidal warlords.

21. Relating to the big bang theory … Where did the exploding star come from?

Oh, quarterback, you have not been paying attention. First, the big bang wasn’t even the topic of the debate. Second, it wasn’t an “exploding star”. The theory states that all the matter in the current universe was compressed into a singularity of infinite density, which then expanded incredibly quickly and is still expanding at an accelerating rate.

If you were actually wondering what came before the big bang, well, nobody knows (yet)! Considering that our current understanding points to the BB being the beginning of space-time as we know it, there was no “before” the BB because there was no time until after the BB. However, rest assured, if anyone does find out what happened “before” the BB, it won’t be a preacher in a Creationist “Museum” (who’ll probably be too busy aiming his laser pointer at a diorama of Adam, Eve and their pet velociraptor). SPOILER ALERT: I suspect it will be a scientist, just like the guy who invented the nylon in your North Face jacket.

22. If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

If America came from Europe, why is there still Europe?
If you came from your parents, why are there your grandparents?
If I just ejaculated on the bathroom floor, why am I still here?

Seriously: look up the phrase “common ancestor”. Your personal family tree isn’t a straight line; neither is evolution.

To sum up: every last one of these people is regurgitating creationist talking points that have been refuted a thousand times – but clearly they still need to be refuted. The majority of the questioners appeared to be young, university-aged people, but clearly someone’s failing them in their education. Not only are they being lied to, they’re being trained not to ask honest questions to seek honest answers, but to try and ask gotchas and reinforce their own ignorance. They’re just like (some might even be) the creationist trolls who appear at science websites and try to win arguments with slick (so they think) rhetoric (which they invariably follow with Bible verses and threats of Hell), rather than enter the discussion honestly and learn something.

Bill Nye was right to debate Ken Ham, because there are normal, intelligent people in the US who still ask nineteenth-century questions.

Why Bill Nye was right to debate Ken Ham

Yesterday, at a place in Kentucky called the “Creation Museum”, creationist preacher Ken Ham (an ex-pat Australian and fundamentalist Christian) debated scientist Bill “The Science Guy” Nye (a much-adored communicator of science on US TV). The question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?

Even though Ham was on home turf and the audience was stacked with creationists, Nye appeared to win the debate with a combination of humour, passion for science, honesty & humility regarding unanswered questions and a willingness to admit his mind could be changed by evidence. Ham, on the other hand, was rigid, inflexible, kept touting the Bible in answer to every question and went on record saying that nothing could possibly change his mind about Genesis being a textbook, essentially stating that his mind was closed to even the possibility that he might be wrong. To many, that was the moment he lost the debate.

Questions arose as soon as the debate was announced: Would Nye be out of his depth and out-talked by a man on home ground used to giving slick presentations about Biblical “truths”? Would this event look far better on Ham’s CV than on Nye’s? After all, many prominent scientists and atheists are on record saying that to debate a creationist is to provide the illusion that creationism is compelling enough an explanation for life and its diversity to be discussed on equal footing with evolution. One of the most common questions was this: is there any more point in debating a creationist than debating a flat-earther or homeopath?

I say, in the right context and with the right people, these debates are worth having.

It might seem incredibly silly to most of us in the democratic and more or less secular world, but it’s unfortunately necessary in the United States of America. The reason this debate took place is because the US is infested with a political brand of creationism that is constantly attempting to insert itself into government and into state education, in violation of the Constitution which forbids official endorsement of religion. Despite the Constitutional ban, state high school boards are nonetheless under constant pressure from overtly religious lobby groups (and some who pretend they’re not religious, like the “Intelligent Design” advocates) to teach kids about “alternatives” to evolution or to “teach both sides” of the evolution “debate.” The most underhanded attempt to undermine the teaching of science – the “Kitzmiller v Dover” case of 2004 – saw creationists humiliated by a Bush-appointed conservative Christian judge, who called their decision to (among other things) introduce a blatantly unscientific creationist textbook into biology classes (and then blatantly lie about it) one of “breathtaking inanity”. Numerous attempts to legislate in favour of teaching creationism to state students have been made before and since. The goal is always the same but the language is always evolving to try and stay one step ahead of the law – from the 1970s onward, “creationism” has morphed into “creation science”, then “intelligent design”. Now, creationist advocates talk of “academic freedom” – an innocuous-sounding phrase which is designed to excuse teachers preaching their personal beliefs to state students. The more they try, the more they get shot down in court and the more they have to dilute their language.

Creationists want to insert creationism in science classes as part of the ongoing culture wars; it’s an attempt to secure complete hegemony over children’s minds – they’ve already got homes and churches and most everything else, but the fundamentalists know that kids getting a real education is the biggest threat to their social dominance. They know, being fundamentalists, that a single crack in the edifice of faith could bring the whole thing down. Not just that, but with specific regard to evolution, creationist binary logic says that if we’re not special creations of God then we’re just animals – chemical machines – and therefore cannot be moral, will live lives of hedonism and sin and cannot be “saved”.

While it’s trivial for, say, the UK or Australia to dismiss fundamentalists like Ken Ham, the US is filled with people who think, like him, that education is the enemy of Christianity – especially the biological sciences. These people aren’t just in isolated, insular churches, they’re in every level of government from district school boards to Washington DC. They have such influence that Republican party nominees um and aah when questioned publicly about evolution (questions which wouldn’t even be asked of a UK or Australian politician), because they know their nomination and subsequent political career could easily depend on blowing the correct right-wing Christian dog-whistles.

Debates like this are often cautioned against by scientists with the reason being they’d look better on a creationist’s CV than on a scientist’s, but I think they can be worth doing – not to instantly change the mind of the hardcore creationists or win converts to atheism, but to reach fence-sitters, moderate believers and any believer who might have questions that their pastors don’t have satisfactory answers to. Debates like this are a great way to expose people to information they may well never have heard before – especially the actual facts & theory of evolution and not the caricature so often presented by creationists. They’re also a great way to demonstrate to children of fundamentalist parents that their faith need not be completely irreconcilable with science; that it is possible to be a fulfilled believer and still appreciate both the body of scientific knowledge and the methods used to obtain that knowledge. And, as Bill Nye demonstrated, debates like this can teach people that, as opposed to Ken Ham thumping the Bible and answering every question with “God did it!”, the statement “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer to a question – simply because it’s honest. If you can follow it up, as Nye did, with “Let’s find out,” all the better.

Pope Francis – time to actually live up to your warm n’ fuzzy image

Via the Guardian:

“In grimly worded findings released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the watchdog urged the Holy See to “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers” from their posts in the church and hand over the cases to law enforcement authorities in the countries concerned.

It also asked the Vatican to ensure that an expert commission set up by Pope Francis last year will “investigate independently” all cases of child sex abuse and the way in which they are handled by the Catholic hierarchy. Records concerning past cases should be opened up so that they can be used to hold the abusers – and those who may have sought to protect them – accountable, the panel added.

The Holy See must establish “clear rules, mechanisms and procedures” for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of abuse to civil law enforcement authorities, it said.

The committee said it was “particularly concerned” that in dealing with allegations of child sex abuse, “the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children‘s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry.”

We’re all aware that Pope Francis is a different kettle of fish to Ratzinger, but it remains to be seen whether he can use his post to take meaningful action against the culture of rape and abuse that’s infested his organisation beyond living memory. Successive Popes have had the opportunity (and certainly the responsibility) to do so; none so far have had significant success.

Francis and the Vatican have an opportunity, while the world watches closer than ever before, not just to clear out the rot, end the hypocrisy and cooperate with law enforcement, but to institute a new culture of honesty and transparency. I realise that the pace of progress is usually glacial in the Holy See (it did take four centuries to excuse Galileo for his crime of “being right about space”), but perhaps that’s the first thing that should change.