Science Museum of Minnesota – Skeptics Welcome!

There were a few excellent displays at the Science Museum, but the ones that warmed my skeptical heart the most involved some of the wacky things people have believed, and/or cynically employed to try to fleece people of their hard-earned money. Jodi took some pictures. Check these out!

A phrenology chair straight out of a mad science movie!

More fun below the fold!
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Is religion compatible with science?

Dan J at Relatively Unrelated posts on a topic near and dear to my heart.

I keep hearing the accommodationist mantra that religion is compatible with science (or vice versa). There have recently been issues regarding a person who happens to be a skeptic, while at the same time being Christian (of the Roman Catholic sect), becoming upset that her religious ideas were openly ridiculed by other skeptics. There have been recent articles attempting to rationalize the “Adam and Eve” myth of the Christian Bible as factual. Now, it seems, there has been atheist-bashing at, of all places, an annual event hosted by The Society for the Study of Evolution.

He expresses outrage at the accusation that atheists “won’t change their minds”, that they are dogmatic and inflexible, that they derive their beliefs from anything other than scientific observation. I’m tired of this accusation, having had it flung at me so often from the creationists’ side of the argument, that every time I hear it from an accomodationist it sets my blood to boiling. No, atheism and science are not the same topic. However, science is a valid replacement for the dogmatic worldview provided by most religions wherein the framework for understanding the world is based on a theistic creation event. Atheism CAN lead to science, but not necessarily. And vice versa — science, with its intelligible, duplicable and well-evidenced answers, can replace dogma and eventually lead to atheism.

That does not make science and religion compatible. Where science, supported by evidence and observation, conflicts with dogmatic belief in unscientific principles, religion falls far short of the mark and will fail of its own accord. Science stands on its evidence. That some people can compartmentalize and accept theism and a personal god and creation six thousand years ago, and also accept the science that says this creation happened much, much earlier and through natural processes that can be identified and tested empirically, does not make the two compatible. It just means humans are really good at rationalizing and pick-and-choosing which parts of which epistemologies they desire and mishmashing them together.

Science has an eroding effect on the dogmatic foundation of religion, no matter which religion, making them incompatible short of an act of will on the part of humans capable of making such an effort. Just because atheists recognize this conflict and believe the religious dogma to be insufficient, does not mean they can NOT be swayed to believe in deities, fairies, unicorns or anything else, provided sufficient physical evidence and repeatable scientific observation.

Leaving on a jet plane

I’m not sure how likely it is I’m going to have time for blogging over the next few days. See, tomorrow, at 11:55am, Jodi and I are planning on getting on a two-part flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I say “planning” because flights have this annoying tendency of getting delayed by an hour pretty well every time I’m supposed to get on one.

Plans for the week’s vacation include visiting the science museum, one of the two zoos, visiting with all sorts of super-awesome people we’ve met on the blogosphere (e.g. Ben and Stephanie Zvan, Tim and Carrie Iwan, and I’m kinda hoping to collect PZ Myers and the rest of Quiche Moraine to fill my autograph book), and of course, we’ll be spending four of our vacation days devoted exclusively to CONvergence, a sci-fi/fantasy/skeptics/nerddom convention. The Skepchicks have a track there called SkepchiCON, which we’re both looking forward to participating in as much as possible. I’m of course interested in the panels being hosted by some of those same blog heroes mentioned earlier, but will make sure to stop and check out some of the less heady events, such as Gnome Punting and Advanced Zombie Survival.

If you’re one of the few people that my dear, hermitous wife has allowed to follow her on Twitter, she’ll be live-tweeting our goings-on. I’ll have my laptop, but I can’t guarantee I’ll get to live-blog much of anything. Will probably put together catch-up posts once I get some time.

Anyway, almost time for bed. Onward to adventure!

Formspring question: why are atheists so mean to me?

Why do atheists feel the need to put down people who believe in a God? I spend a lot of time on the internet and a lot of my encounters with Atheists have been negative in the sense they feel superior to me because they don’t believe in God. Why is that?

I’m going to assume you’re earnest in your question, and that you’re not merely smearing me specifically with perceived slights by other people. There’s a number of possible answers for this question. From most to least likely:

1. You’re on the internet. People are generally douchier than in real life, when behind a screen of anonymity. It’s possible if you were to debate them in person, they’d be more civil.

2. It’s also very easily possible to misread tone on the internet as it’s pure text. You may be mistaken about their perceived superiority. Some people aren’t as good as others at being diplomatic in pure text, where people don’t have the benefit of facial expressions or tone of voice to detract from the seeming condescension of their words.

3. If you’ve spent a lot of time on the internet debating with atheists (and I notice you’re using a capital A so I think this possibility is a good one), they may feel that you’re claiming that an atheist is an Atheist, e.g. that they subscribe to a religious view of atheism, the same way that a person can be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew. The thing is, it’s also possible (and much more likely) that they are atheists because atheism is the default position for someone unconvinced by any specific dogma — it is merely a lack of theism. Getting on someone’s nerves is not a good debating tactic — it’s just a good way to ensure you’ll end up incurring harsh feelings. And once you’ve gotten someone’s enmity that way, forget civility.

4. They could recognize specific arguments from battles past, and they may have already heard and feel they have already sufficiently countered them. This is especially true if you’re going to an atheist’s blog, and you haven’t taken the time to search it to see if they’ve specifically addressed your exact argument before.

5. They could feel you’ve mischaracterized something they’ve said, and are offended. It’s not a matter of feeling slighted by your not “believing’ their argument, but rather that you’ve either intentionally or unintentionally misunderstood what they’re saying in order to make a point of your own. When having a debate with someone, read their argument more than once before you start your rebuttal. They’ve likely done the same, so its’s only fair.

6. Understand that just because they don’t agree with your position, doesn’t mean they haven’t thought it out. And it certainly doesn’t mean they are intentionally disrespectful of yours.

There’s more possibilities than just these, but these are the ones off the top of my head.

Update:
7. They may not necessarily disrespect YOU. It’s possible they’re disrespecting only your IDEAS. People deserve respect intrinsically. Ideas have to be proven before they should be respected. And in some cases, the manner in which you “prove” ideas may not be the same as other people — for some, merely having enough people believing the same thing makes the idea worthy of respect (e.g. if there are a billion Muslims in the world, their ideas can’t possibly be ALL wrong, could they?). This is fallacious on its face. The fact that a lot of people believe a thing that’s unproven, doesn’t make the thing they believe any more worthy of respect. It is only when ideas are well-evidenced that they should be respected, and even then, they should never be elevated to the level of sacrosanctness.

Care Bears, stare!

There’s been talk of making a Fraggle Rock movie, and that the people responsible are retooling the script so as to make it “edgier”. Since Fraggle Rock was a big part of my childhood, I’d like to show you what happens when you take a piece of your childhood and try to update it to be “edgy”.

Hmm. Come to think of it, that almost seems worth it. While I’d prefer Fraggle Rock not get messed with, if it was done right, it WOULD make an epic underground action flick. I’m picturing Gobo diving sideways through a cave entrance with dual handguns blazing now.

Abiogenesis is not spontaneous generation. Period.

During a brief skirmish I had the other day on Twitter with young-Earth creationist Joe Cienkowski (of self-published anti-atheist tract fame), he asserted that the theory of abiogenesis is the same as the now-disproven hypothesis of spontaneous generation. This is, of course, as with pretty well every other assertion about science ever made by Joe, patently false.

Spontaneous generation held that life in its present form today could form from non-life, and did so all the time — for instance, aphids sprang from dew on plants, maggots emerged from rotting meat, and mice were created from wet hay. In 1859, Louis Pasteur performed experiments that put the final nail in the coffin of the hypothesis. He proved definitively that life does not spring, fully formed and unbidden, from any recipe of inorganic or dead organic matter. So the question of the origin of life was reopened for the first time in centuries.

Abiogenesis, on the other hand, does not predict that life in any form known today — not even the simplest single-celled life forms — were created in some flash of magic or through some arcane recipe of components. That would be creation, in the sense of a personal creator deity. Rather, it predicts that, as life is made up of chemical reactions, and the constituent components of life can self-arrange given certain conditions, there is some point in Earth’s early history wherein a chemical chain reaction went runaway and breached the fuzzy barrier between chemistry and biology. All biology is is one single long, unbroken chemical reaction that can be traced back to whatever initial condition sparked it billions of years ago.
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Set phasers on Jesus-stun!

I’ve had this particular tidbit up my sleeve for a while. Figured it’s time to play this particular card now, while I have a shit-ton of work to do and only one day left to do it in, before I can go on my vacation properly. Yes, I have a crazy work ethic, and feel as though I have to honor promises I made weeks ago despite vacation I booked months ago.

And this video is particularly priceless. Enjoy the train wreck of stupidity, bad acting, proselytizing, and Klingons on bass, that is Star Tracts. Honestly, after Christoga, are you really surprised at fundies’ ridiculous tendency toward renaming everything so as to have a passing resemblance to some aspect of Christianity?

Hat tip to the ineffable archive of failure that is Everything is Terrible.

(No, but seriously, humanity is so doomed.)

Activist judges, money for oil, and a blatant disregard for reality

Funny how the right-wing complains about judges being “activist” whenever they overturn anything they like, such as gay marriage bans or laws that tip the scales heavily away from individuals and toward big businesses. When they declare Obama’s deep drilling moratorium on new leases deeper than 500 feet to be unfounded and lift it, however, they apparently cheer, wholly oblivious to their hypocrisy.

Oil companies should get back to the business of drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a U.S. federal judge ruled, declaring President Barack Obama’s six-month ban “arbitrary and capricious.”

As crude oil continues to gush from BP’s catastrophic blowout, Judge Martin Feldman said Tuesday that the Obama administration had failed to provide an acceptable rationale for imposing a six-month moratorium on all deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

His ruling came even as BP said the industry needs to change its operating procedures to reduce the risk of another such accident.

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That incident, which was seized upon by Republicans and conservative pundits in the U.S., “caused some apprehension” about the process by which the moratorium was enacted, the judge ruled.

He said the administration investigated the BP disaster and then concluded all deep water drilling was unsafe – reasoning he found deeply flawed.

“If some equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? … That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed and rather overbearing,” the judge wrote. The moratorium also threatened to devastate the local economy around the Gulf, the judge noted.

Meanwhile, despite being in effect since the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the moratorium has not done a damn thing to stop 198 new leases in the Gulf, 10 of which being granted to British Petroleum.
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