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Aug 17 2010

Atheist blogospherics, and beating creationists at their own game

I haven’t done any atheist posts recently. I’ve been so wrapped up in the astrology nonsense that I just haven’t had the concentration to split off onto other topics, like my rampant heathenism. This is a sin, in my books, so I aim to rectify that — by pointing to a few other people’s interesting posts.

Greg Laden discusses the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of Science, which Jodi and I had the opportunity to see but opted not, given the high price and the low level of interest we had in the actual archaeology behind it. A few jokes were made about the religious folks who would flock to it only to discover that most of the stories in the Bible took a much different form in their original incarnations. None of the jokes were anything to do with the authors being ignorant shepherds.

A while ago I asked on my Facebook page whether anyone had seen the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. As one might expect, a couple of people, who possibly thought I was joking, noted that the Dead Sea scrolls were part of the bible, and all that stuff was implausible stories handed down by ignorant shepherds over the generations, etc., etc., etc.

My first reaction to that, as an anthropologist, was this: “Hey, Imma let you say that now, but if you diss my Pygmies like that I’ll kick your ass.” In other words, I do find it rather condescending when western occidento-hetero-caucasoido-normative types take it on themselves to make blanket statements that some other group of people of which they know nothing are stupid. I understand the whole being annoyed at the bible thing, but this is where modern-day new atheists can be thoughtless when unpracticed in their philosophy and its application.

Interested to see where he’s going with this? Of course you are!

Elsewhere, on the intertubes, a blogger writing under the name of Overscope has a post up titled Poisoning the Well, wherein he discusses the recent-slash-neverending “schism” discussion between atheists and skeptics. And he makes a number of truly excellent points.

I want to point something out that I don’t think many skeptics familiar with this discussion have paid enough attention to: nobody (save some career civil servants in the Bush Administration and Dr. David Nutt in the UK) ever lost their job due to skepticism. Nobody’s been threatened in the US military because they didn’t believe in Bigfoot. There is no wording in US state constitions prohibiting people from holding office if they don’t believe in reflexology. People don’t pound on your door at 8am on a Saturday trying to convert you into believing NASA didn’t really land on the moon. No US president has ever said that people who don’t believe in UFOs aren’t really citizens. Dowsers are not trying to prevent women from consulting with geologists. Chiropractors are not taking over state boards of education to ensure subluxation theory replaces the germ theory of disease in high school biology class. Spoon-benders did not spend tens of millions of dollars trying to deny non-psychokinetic Californians their right to marry.

And occasional commenter and an ex-roommate of mine, Mitchell, sent along a link to a brilliant application by paleontologist Paul Senter of the techniques that creationists use to show that the various “kinds” of life, or “baramins”, are correctly classified, in order to prove that dinosaurs and birds share a common ancestor.

I used a statistical technique called classic multidimensional scaling, which creation scientists use to quantify morphological gaps between species. I wanted to determine whether morphological gaps separated Archaeopteryx – the earliest known bird – from the various non-avian coelurosaurs, the group of predatory dinosaurs ranging from tiny Microraptor to giant T. rex. I showed that within this group there is too much similarity to indicate separate baramins. Contrary to the previous creationist view that these animals were separately created, their own pet technique shows that these animals shared a common ancestor (Journal of Evolutionary Biology, vol 23, p 1732)

The technique could theoretically be used to systematically show a common origin for most, if not all, life, thus forcing creationists to either accept a common origin or abandon their technique of classic multidimensional scaling. It would be a small victory, but an amusing one nonetheless.

So, what interesting news in atheism do you have to share?

2 comments

  1. 1
    Mitchell

    Links from me? Why, they never end! :) This is a really good one.

    http://vimeo.com/13704095

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Phil Plait is great. And having the speech up will definitely do much to heal the attempts at saying the speech was about PZ Myers, since it definitely wasn’t.

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