In Kirk Cameron’s stunted imagination, “if evolution were true”, we ought to see “one animal transitioning into another”; for example, an individual crocodile literally transforming into a bird, with the intermediate being a Crocoduck, a perfect half-and-half creature, like a decimal half way between two integers. Well, tucked away in my childhood, toy depository, I have just such a creature. No, I have three such creatures. Welcome to the Kirk Cameron Zoo.
Behold, the magnificent Chickow
Recoil before the teetering Giraffant
Gaze upon the creepy Catogator.
The tragedy of Kirk Cameron is that he’s fixated on a definition of evolution that doesn’t exist in the real world, the adult world. Kirk, here’s a bit of advice from your own medicine cabinet –the Bible.
Corinthians 13:11 — “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
What in the world is it? It’s not a dinosaur that’s for sure. It’s of the genus Dimetrodon, and lived during the Permian Period, 280 to 265 million years ago, predating dinosaurs by a good 35 million years. More closely related to mammals than to reptiles, Dimetrodon measured about 1o feet long, and had two types of teeth, hence the name Dimetrodon, which means Di (two)- metro(measure)-odon(tooth). Having a variety of tooth types, with multiple cusps, is a characteristic of mammals, not reptiles, to name just one of the many differences between the two groups. And finally there’s the NEW T-Shirt that tells the world that you know that it’s NOT a dinosaur. Unfortunately, the vagueness of the shirt may lead the uninitiated to think that you’re declaring that you’re not obsolete just yet.
Christians regularly tell me I’m headed for hell for being a freethinker. But when I try to imagine this fiery underworld, my mind falls short, and all I see is spending an eternity with them –an army of pious brain-dead conservative robots, dressed in matching polyester outfits, oafishly shuffling about under twinkling chandeliers and gaudy lighting, to the most insidious, elevator music ever conceived. It’s an intellectually barren world where the only shape is a square. I’m afraid even considering its existence. Now, peer into my hell, if you dare.
I’ve just finished reading Frogs, Flies, & Dandelions: the making of speciesby biologist Menno Schilthuizen –an engaging and informative book on species formation. Here’s a little taste of what I learned; it illustrates that genetics isn’t perfect, and evolution is beautifully adaptive.
Historically, the common dandelion, that ubiquitous and irritating weed found in gardens and fields throughout North America and Europe, has been a puzzle to botanists. For a long time, no one was sure how many species existed. In the 1700’s, Carolus Linnaeus said only one; in the 20th century, Scandinavian botanists claimed more than two-thousands existed. But with DNA testing, came the answer. Many dandelions are, in fact, clones. In place of normal sexual reproduction with two sets of chromosomes being divided into sex cells, the ovules and pollen, some dandelions reproduce by parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, because at one point in their history they mutated into having three sets of chromosomes, a number which is sexually indivisible. The mutant dandelions instead produce unfertilized –but still viable– seeds, each with a triple set of chromosomes –in other words, a clone.
What’s most illuminating is that the same mutation has popped up several times. So there are several strains with triple chromosomes, all sexually isolated from one another because they can only reproduce by cloning themselves. But it gets better; the clones still produce pollen, except it is completely sterile. Only in the light of evolution does this sordid asexual tale make sense. Why waste the time and energy producing “irregular pollen” if it’s never going to be used? Perhaps god takes a sadistic pleasure in irritating people’s allergies. Or he’s invested heavily in big pharmaceuticals. If so, I hope he had Bernie Madoff sitting on his nest egg.
Trapped in the recesses of the web –like hardened chewing gum stuck for eternity in the cracks of a sidewalk– are religious forums and pseudo-news organizations with URL names beginning with “faith”, “belief”, or “answers”. They’re little worlds unto themselves, and that’s the way their readers like it. They don’t spurn reality, for they create their own; the same way Las Vegas casinos don’t cheat because they make up their own rules.
At Belief.Net a dude named David Klinghoffer has chronicled his Dialogue with Atheists. He challenged atheists to explain how life can have meaning or morality without a supernatural being bestowing them upon us. Klinghoffer stretched his argument to the extreme, though, by comparing atheists to the Joker, the supreme nihilist. He forgets, though, that the Joker also loves to expose hypocrisy.
As an atheist, I’m left wondering where religious folk find their meaning and morality. Surely it’s not in any religious text; for bestsellers like the Bible and the Quran are morally ambiguous at best. They’re all things to all people. Prohibitionists, for example, used the bible to speak against the evils of alcohol; and we know how that ended. And according to which Christians of the 19th century you consult, the Bible both supports and condemned slavery. Today, if you compare the King James version of the Ten Commandments to more modern translations here’s a hint of what you’ll find: The former says Thou shall not kill; the latter say Thou shall no commit murder. How Orwellian.
Religions are not wells of meaning and morality; they’re justifications for capricious humans. Give me reason over faith any day.
Ben Stein is putting his smirk and whiny voice to ads for the DVD release of Expelled: The Movie, No Intelligence Allowed. Christmas is just around the corner and a rotten lump of pseudo-scientific coal makes such a great stocking stuffer for the kids. In the ads, Mr. Stein claims Expelled is the #1 documentary of 2008. I think not. Let’s check the stats. Expelled grossed about 7.7 million and opened in 1052 theaters, while Bill Mahr’s documentary Religulous grossed10.6 million and only opened in 502 theaters. If Mr. Stein is alluding to the reviews of Expelled making it #1, then he is wrong on that point, too. Most reviews were resoundingly negative. For example, The New York TImes said,
Mixing physical apples and metaphysical oranges at every turn “Expelled” is an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike. In its fudging, eliding and refusal to define terms, the movie proves that the only expulsion here is of reason itself.
Finally, if you go to the Expelled website you can crash their ironic poll asking, “Do you think Darwin’s theories are outdated?” If Darwin is over-the-hill, then creationism is fossilized. I made a funny.
If you haven’t heard Paul Harvey or Paul Harvey Jr. on the radio, then I envy you your ignorant bliss, for they both sound like a drunken Jimmy Stewart from the movie Harvey. The father and son “newsmen” do a short, cornball show covering the gamut, from world politics to folksy stories of small town America. The Harvey’s “reporting” style is reminiscent of old-time radio; imagine a man wearing a fedora, with one hand clasped over an ear, speaking into a enormous, chrome plated microphone. During their syndicated broadcast they shift seamlessly from important news stories to sales pitches for delicious buttery spreads to tales of conservative family values. I think Dude Lebowski might say the Harvey’s are out of their element, by about five decades.
Well, Thursday morning I woke up to Paul Harvey Jr. talking complete gobbledygook about the latest astrophysics and why it reestablishes the earth as unique in the universe. Have a listen, at least to the first 3 minutes.
“Science texts for four centuries have insisted that the earth is nothing special in the universe“. No. Copernicus’ heliocentric model was just a technical detail about earth’s position in the solar system. It didn’t say anything about its status or importance in the universe. Although, based on a lack of distinguishing features, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our solar system isn’t particularly special. After all, there are billions of galaxies each with billions of stars, as Carl Sagan might point out. But that’s not going to stop a theist from grasping at straws.
“Inexplicable phenomenon“, “Dark energy“, “Dark matter“, “Dark flow“, and “Confounded“. Leave it to a gullible fool like Harvey Jr. to invoke the god-of-the- gaps argument; if scientists don’t understand something then it must be supernatural. i.e. I don’t know how David Copperfield did an illusion, therefore it’s must be real magic.
“Those dark forces… the infinitely vast reality that exists beyond it [the universe]“. Harvey Jr. thinks dark energy and dark matter exist beyond the universe. I didn’t know science could see that far.
“Accepted without question“. Scientists interrogate each other into submission because science is a method of investigation, which cannot be done without asking questions. Religious faith is loyalty to an idea regardless of the evidence. Don’t theists typically balk at Q&A sessions?
“The earth alone exists in a cosmic bubble“. Give a layman a little physics and he’ll twist and turn it into an Easter pretzel. It’s Harvey Jr. who exists in a intellectual bubble.
My advice is not to get your science news from giant invisible white rabbits named Harvey or credulous radio personalities.
Fictional mad scientists are most often portrayed as highly driven and glory hungry; they are the unwitting villains, the victims of their own inquisitive natures. Author, Reto Schneider, has written The Mad Science Book, whichchronicles the history and present of questionable experiments carried out by real-life “mad” scientists. A list of nine of these experiments is on The New Scientist website. My favorite is Dogbot, the robot dog that was a social reject. Real dogs wanted nothing to do with him. Maybe his nose glowed red or he aspired to be a dentist. Whatever the reason, Dogbot was not allowed to participate in dog games.
What I like about mad experimentation is it’s raw unbridled curiosity. What does it matter if some experiments go wrong or if others are completely useless and outright wacky? What counts is that humans have a desire to understand the world. Thomas Edison was a mad inventor; he wasted ten years of his life on devising a new mining technique, which failed miserably. He also designed furniture and homes made out of that comfortable substance know as concrete. Not big sellers.
The lesson here is that in a complex world, curiosity saves the cat, it doesn’t kill it. But still there is an intellectual divide in society. There are those who care to know the world, and those who don’t care to have their world views tarnished by reality. I’m talking about creationists here. To them a mad scientist is someone to be feared.
What do you think the appropriate lesson should be in public schools?
1. Evolution only
2. Evolution, pointing out weaknesses in theory
3. Evolution and creationism
4. Creationism only
What strikes me as disturbingly normal about this poll is that creationism is immunized against criticism. Evolutionary biology is a science and all scientific positions are open to falsification, if valid counter evidence is presented. But in the poll, creationism isn’t set up in the same manner as evolution is in choice #2. To be fair, shouldn’t there have been the following 5th choice?
5. Creationism, pointing out weaknesses in the theory
Denounce evolution all you want, but if creationism is to be allowed in the science classroom, it has to be able to withstand rigorous testing, picking and prodding. And that means looking at all its weaknesses. All of them. It’s kind of like asking a sleazy politician to open up his closet door. Skeletons aplenty.