Deus or Darwin

A universe that’s seen as random
Frightens those who crave control—
They want a god, to walk in tandem;
Faiths arise, cos folks demand ‘em—
Comfort, really, is their goal;
Thus charismatic leaders’ fandom
Sell their brain to save their soul.

With their control in diminution
Some will act to ease the threat;
Hitting on a strange solution,
Lose their trust in evolution;
Try, instead, a different bet—
Some designer’s contribution,
Rather than a blind roulette.

But—frame selection as restricted,
Rather than as simple chance—
Now beliefs are less conflicted;
Life less random, more predicted;
Less chaotic; more a dance:
How god and science are depicted
Determines which one will advance.

(Rutjens, B. T., et al., Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.009)

Rutjens, B. T., et al. (in press) explore the contribution of control-threat (that is, the perception of a lack of control over one’s events and environment) to belief in some version of design (non-designed Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design vs the Conway-Morris restricted Evolutionary theory). Control-Threat theory suggests that when our perception of control is threatened, we look for ways to restore control; if science paints a picture that is… what’s the word? … accurate, then we may get the feeling that we are just a tiny insignificant speck, here by the most improbable of chances, in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Rather than being gobsmacked at how wonderful this is, we may instead feel tiny, insignificant, and speck-like, and cast about for ways to restore our former (ignorant and blissful) larger place in The Order Of Things.

This is where religion can come in. Rutjens, et al., though, show that the grasp for order and control need not reach toward religion. An alternative framing (that word!) of evolution (Conway-Morris, 2005) was preferred by Rutjens’s participants over intelligent design. (I find it interesting that Conway-Morris’s description of ID was “a theology for control freaks”–the freewheeling, limitless potential of evolution is presumed to be beyond the ID-believer’s comfort level, and the muttered safe-word “design” brings the needed control back.) An analysis of Conway-Morris is beyond the current post; what is important is that it was control or predictability, and not god that was craved in times of uncertainty. God just happens to be one means by which an illusion of control may be delivered.

But, hey, I can’t claim immunity; I stick to the sheltered harbor of metrical, rhymed verse, avoiding the uncertain currents and swells of real poetry. (Others stick to their favorite foods, or music, or destinations; there, I will gladly embrace the unknown!) I doubt (just a gut feeling) that Rutjens’s finding is something that is limited to one’s views on evolution, but it is nice to have this particular mosaic tile, this part of the big picture.

One Nation Indivisible

“We are all Americans, we stand together. I think it is absolutely important now for majority of Americans to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance. We have to make sure we don’t start turning on each other. We are one nation under God. We may call that God different names, but we are one nation.”
President Barack Obama

I’ve always thought it more than odd
To say “One nation, under God”—
It’s laughable; it’s risible:
One thing it’s not is “indivisible”.
My president just cut me out:
My welcome here is now in doubt.
“Home of the brave”; “Land of the free”
But not the godless, can’t you see?

If common values bind us close—
Ideas, small or grandiose—
Those notions, if we care to look,
Will not be found in Holy Book
But in the Constitution’s lines,
The founders’ words, their grand designs,
Where weak or strong may both speak free,
Including godless folks like me.

Extra! Extra!

Pastor Jones
Cries and moans
And spouts his hateful views
He makes it clear
For us to hear
And floods the evening news
As cameras click
He does his shtick
And writers meet their deadlines
Somehow his shit
Is “news that’s fit
To print” and makes the headlines
This Jones, I think,
Enjoys his ink
When writers praise or scoff—
So I suggest
It might be best
To turn the cameras off.

A story in yesterday’s NYTimes does a bit of navel-gazing, and ponders the media’s role in Pastor Terry “Burn the Koran” Jones. Prior to his surfing the “ground zero mosque” media wave, Jones was an annoying little man who was unknown to the vast majority of us, a small fish even in his own community. He tried to get noticed, but frankly, few cared.

That was then; this is now. Every newspaper, every media outlet, everybody with access to ink or pixels has written about this pathetic man, and he has gladly stood in the center of a ring of cameras and made the most of a slow news period. (Yes, I see the irony in complaining about this while engaging in it. But I am a very small cuttlefish, and the odds of Jones being aware that I have even written his name are infinitesimal.)

The news cycle loves tempests in teapots. That is what this is. Jones has every right to burn [his own] copies of the Koran. The beautiful irony of it is, every argument he might make for exercising this right, is an argument in favor of building the mosque he is so dead-set against. Me? I’m an atheist, so I have no dog or god in this fight. But I would rather not establish a precedent of the government being able to dictate this sort of thing, because I quite selfishly would like to maintain my own right to offend people by writing… well, the sort of stuff you might find if you look through this blog.

Dear CreationConversations…

Dear CreationConversations, could you help me out a bit?
We’re about to study Science, where in truth I must admit
That my knowledge base is lacking, and I really don’t know shit,
‘Cept the science that my pastor says is true—

Like that evolution’s evil, which already I’d suspected,
Cos if God says we’re created, then that doesn’t mean selected;
If my teacher mentions Darwin, then I want my ears protected,
So I’m looking to the experts—namely, you.

So I hear we might be learning about animals and plants
And a bit on reproduction, where I think that there’s a chance
That I’ll get a funny feeling near the zipper of my pants
And I’m worried that I won’t know what to do!

Can you help me with some answers? Can you help allay my fears?
Can you help me if some science accidently hits my ears?
Cos the they say it doesn’t matter what a Christian student hears—
It’s their Darwinist-Evangelistic view!

If I hear their godless message, there’s a chance I might succumb,
And that violates my first amendment right to still be dumb!
It’s my right to read the bible till my thinking stuff goes numb!
My religion says that learning is taboo!

I’ll await your thoughtful answer with a keen anticipation;
You can see that I’m concerned about my future education—
If you can’t find a solution to this current situation
Then my dream to be a doctor might be through!

So, yeah… according to PZ, CreationConversations is the place to go for advice on how to handle those pesky presentations of evidence for evolution that play havoc with one’s religious world view. I think one or two of my students must have gone there… probably not, but it was fun knowing more about the purpose behind their dog-whistle questions than they themselves knew. Those poor innocent children, naively asking questions they have been fed by utter bullshit artists. But it’s nice to give both the answer to the question and the warning against trusting those bullshit artists again. Two answers where only one was expected!

Ex Nihilo

In the beginning, there was a void,
Which left a lot of folks annoyed.
So Hawking thought he’d take the case
And looked through time and space.

He looked to where it all began—
This thoughtful and inquiring man—
To where some say there must be God
And thought, “well, this is odd.”

“From gravity alone, I see
The Universe that came to be—
There need not be a Guiding Hand;
I hope you understand.”

But those who search in vain for Gaps
Where God may hide, just said “Perhaps
It’s God, creating Gravity,
Through his divinity.”

But comments left on news-sites show
That common people claim to know
Much better than a physics prof
(At whom they point and scoff)

Their knowledge-base approaching null,
Still from the vacuum of their skull
Ex nihilo, opinions sprout
And come a-creeping out.

From ignorance comes solid proof
That God is there—he’s just aloof—
And Hawking erred throughout his book,
They know without a look.

As usual, the real fun is to be had not in reading the articles about Hawking’s new book, but in reading the comment sections to those articles! Hawking’s book, which is not yet available, is already clearly wrong. Apparently faith in god comes with the ability to time travel, or to read so fast that you can finish a book several days before it is released.

Can I Get You Something?

Suppose you were down in the hole
But were not a mole
And were thus unaccustomed to life 700 meters underground
Where you are now found.
And suppose that everything that people could send to you had to fit into a hole barely the size of your fist—
What’s on your list?

Seriously… I have been thinking about this for a few days. The hole is narrower than a wine bottle (besides, the experts are telling them they can’t give the trapped miners alcohol–or cigs, for that matter), and some 700 meters long. You are trapped with 32 others, which limits the amount of time available for getting you your own personal stuff. If something gets stuck, it needs to be pulled up again, which further wastes time. Quite a technical problem to begin with, let alone the personal variables!

The logistics of first designing and then sending a world of supplies down more than 2,200 feet through a hole not much bigger than a lemon has challenged the Chilean engineers and their counterparts from around the world, including NASA scientists and submarine commanders.

“That’s the size of the tube by which we can supply them,” said Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich as he formed a small circle with his hands. “Everything we develop must be this size or smaller.”

Manalich described a laboratory of inventors behind the scenes who are designing everything, including collapsible cots and miniature sandwiches for lunch.

So… what’s on your list? If you get greedy, 32 people will put you at the back of the line. If you don’t speak up, you get nothing.

Me? I’ve slept on rocks before, I can wait on the cot. Roll some writing paper around a pen or two, and that ought to slide right down. That, and a loaded MP3 player with earbuds, and I’ll wait in the back of the line for a long time.