Pharyngula podcast tomorrow

Remember! Tomorrow (Saturday) at 10am Central I’ll be opening up Google+ and setting up a public chat about those silly creationists. The resulting youtube video will be posted here, if you want to sleep in, or you can watch it streaming live, and even join in.

If you want to talk, come prepared with your favorite creationist foolishness…and also, your refutation of it.

(If you’re reading this shortly after I’ve posted it, you’re awake for it: it will be about this same time tomorrow. Or you can convert US Central time to your time zone.)

The worst diffuses well

It’s really a shame: the United States does have some very good things, like an excellent higher education system (which is declining with drooping support, but that’s a different subject), a fine Constitution, and good pizza, but what is making headway in the rest of the world? McDonalds and creationism. Turkey has the creationism bug even worse than we do, and guess who infected them?

In the 1980s, Turkey was still reeling from a military coup d’etat. The socially conservative government that took control after the junta relinquished power changed the science curriculum in schools, Kence says. After the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case “Edwards v. Aguillard,” which prohibited the teaching of creationism in American public school science courses, he says creationists’ gaze moved abroad. Turkey came calling.

“In collaboration with American creationists, the Minister of Education in Turkey called the Institute for Creation Research and asked for their help,” he says. New textbooks were printed and distributed, and over time teachers began to teach creationism and evolution side by side.

A spokesperson at the Ministry of Education confirmed that government-sanctioned biology textbooks label evolution as a theory, as do scientists everywhere, but also teach creationism alongside it, as a rival theory.

It’s pathetic and sad, too, when I look at the Turkish creationist literature, like Harun Yahya’s junk: it isn’t original or interesting or exotic, it really is exactly the same crap the ICR and similar evangelical creationist missionary outfits have been peddling since the 1960s. You can look at that ghastly Atlas of Creation that Yahya was mailing out to scientists everywhere and trace everything in it back to Duane Gish and Ron Wyatt and all the wacky Ark hunters who go off to Turkey to hike around Mt Ararat and spread gospel tracts.

The people who gravitate to creationism really are the bottom of the barrel, without a single original idea in their heads. And that seems to be true world-wide.

Friday Cephalopod: Two worlds meet

A reader sent in this photo of a captured pelagic octopus and observer. I know…most of you are going to be interested in the mundane mammal here.

I don’t think the beast has any kind of scientific interest in that lovely cephalopod.

Depressing stories about income inequity

Jon Ronson has an interesting take on American economic disparities: He interviews 6 people, each one with 5 times the income of the previous one, going from an immigrant dishwasher to a billionaire.

Each story is worth reading, but the overall take is bizarre: all the people at the bottom of the ladder rationalize their position, saying that they wouldn’t want the worries of the next person up, while pitying the one below them. Except the guy at the top: he’s just angry at all those slackers below him. You can see how the system maintains itself, and why nobody is getting outraged at the tax disparities in this country.

I also learned that Jon Ronson, who’s open about his income, makes more money than I do. A lot more. Next time I meet him, I’m going to have to break the pattern and rage furiously at him and demand that he give me some of his cash. IT ISN’T FAIR, you rich bastard! It’s just not fair!

1 + 0 = 10

It’s homeopathic math, and it really works! Biodork analyzes some personal lubricants, and discovers that all you have to do is add some homeopathic dilutions of boring stuff like salt water to the functional ingredients, and you can write florid ad copy for it and charge twice as much.

Homeopathy really is magic that way — it potentiates profits.

Also, calling it “Yoni’s Bliss”? Genius! Who wouldn’t want blissful yonis?

Why I am an atheist – Jason W.

The reason I have decided to become an atheist was based around my experience with religion growing up. I come from a Catholic family, that by alot of means were very liberal in their practices. I remember tending a Catholic preschool at a very young age when my grandmother was deeply involved with the church. It was then my first exposure to religion had taken root. My mother, who practiced her religion very loosely, had decided that the teachings of Christ should be taught to us through the means of a protestant church. So beginning at the ages of 5, we would begin going to a baptist church located in the down town area of my city. I can vaguely remember the smell of old wood and mold in the place as the pastor and his constituents would do their best to ease the anxiety of all of the new kids tending to their Sunday services.

[Read more...]

Beware! Presuppositionalists!

I see that Aron Ra is wrestling with a presuppositionalist. Presuppositionalists are incredibly obnoxious debaters, and right now, it’s the most common tactic creationists use to defend their nonsense, thanks to Answers in Genesis, which has been pushing it hard.

We agree that presuppositional apologetics is the ultimate biblical approach to apologetics. The common accusation that the presuppositionalist uses circular reasoning is actually true. In fact, everyone uses some degree of circular reasoning when defending his ultimate standard (though not everyone realizes this fact). Yet if used properly, this use of circular reasoning is not arbitrary and, therefore, not fallacious.

Presuppositionalism is basically a false equivalency. They argue that there is merely a difference in the foundation of the creationist and scientific views: the creationist builds on their presupposition that the Bible is true, while the scientist builds on the presupposition that the Bible is false and that atheism is true. It’s the first thing Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum” throws at attendees, with a display of a fossil with a paleontologist and a creationist each interpreting it in their own way. Here’s a set of bones, the paleontologist says; I think they were deposited 70 million years ago, and buried under river sediment. Here’s a set of bones, the creationist says; I think they were deposited in a great flood 4,000 years ago, and buried under the flood sediments. See? Same facts, just different interpretations.

That is, of course, nonsense. There are logical/philosophical arguments against presuppositionalism (there are good examples in the comments at Aron’s blog), but I guess I’m not a philosophical thinker in that same vein — they all seem to twisty and abstract for me, and I don’t really trust those kinds of rebuttals. Too often it feels like you can use philosophy to argue both sides of a position, and when you’re dealing with creationists, they’re mainly using philosophy badly with intent to obfuscate. I’d rather not use a tool I’m not strong in to battle with someone whose skill lies in abusing that same tool — it sounds like a formula for a very bad debate.

I have two arguments I use against them, arguments that are more comfortable for someone with an empirical sort of brain.

One is that they’re being dishonest. They have not presented the totality of the facts at hand, but are being extremely selective. Good science must encompass all that we know, not just the cherry-picked bits selected to avoid compromising your favorite hypothesis. That fossil is not just a set of bones; it’s part of an assemblage, which is part of a complex series of layers, which have compositions and arrangements with known mechanisms to produce them. We also have physical and chemical data about the composition of the mineralized bones, and about the ratios of isotopes in surrounding rocks. We know about the world-wide distribution of related fossils, we know the ecological context of that specimen, we understand the taphonomy of fossils. The presuppositionalist requirement demands that all data that contradicts the Biblical explanation be ignored, set aside with the excuse that legitimate data would not contradict the fable told in the book of Genesis.

The Biblical explanation is not an adequate alternative hypothesis. It fails any scientific test. If it were simply a completely parallel, independent explanation of the same set of observations, it would explain all of the shared observations, and would also open the door to predictions that would allow us to test differences.

My second argument is that their Biblical explanations are not actually foundational. Even the true believers do not operate as if the Bible were a truly sufficient source of answers for navigating the real world.

Foundational presuppositions ought to be much more fundamental than that the Bible is literally true. To me, the really basic assumptions are that I exist; that the world exists; that I can sense this world imperfectly; that there are other beings with whom I can communicate (imperfectly again) who are also trying to sense the nature of this world. From there we try to build a coherent model of that perceived world, using as much evidence as we can glean.

So the Bible and other ancient texts are part of that information, but only a very small part of the whole context, which includes trees and oceans and stars and mathematics and language and monkeys and physics and vacuums and biology. The presuppositionalist who says the total foundational premises of his view of the universe are determined entirely by one holy book is crippling their inputs — it’s like trying to read a book through a pinhole and refusing to ever turn a page. When you look at the totality of available information, you should quickly discover that the Bible is both insufficient and wrong…an observation that is most consistent with the authors of the book being limited and fallible human beings rather than an omniscient superman.

Now I suppose a confident presuppositionalist could assert that the whole of the great book of the universe is derivable from that one tiny pinpoint on one page that they claim is the entirety of their presuppositional foundation, and that they don’t need all that other stuff like science to establish their place on the universe. But they give the lie to that claim with everything they do. They could resolve every contradiction between the Bible and reality by simply saying that God made it so: he miraculously and intentionally created the world with an illusion of great age, conjured up the fossilized bones of creatures that never actually existed, and whisked away all the physical evidence of a global flood — he miraculously poofed everything into existence with attributes that are only ascribable to his ineffable will. It’s all just a big miracle!

But they don’t really believe that. If they did, they wouldn’t feel this pitiful need to reconcile the observations of science with their complete and perfect picture of how the universe came to be in 6 days 6000 years ago. They wouldn’t have to build museums with animatronic dinosaurs to twist about the words of paleontologists. They wouldn’t be making fancy videos with glitzy animations to convince people of their version of history. They wouldn’t be arguing about the evidence with scientists. The Creation “Museum” would just be a small chapel with a Bible on a stand, nothing more.

But it isn’t.

Because they know that their sacred text is not sufficient. They also know it is so thick with contradictions with the real world that they need to hire teams of desperate tap dancers and gimmicky prestidigitators to distract the rubes from noticing the failings, and they need to dissuade everyone from questioning their claims with threats of hell. I might be more sympathetic to their assertion of the sufficiency of their presuppositions if they didn’t have to swaddle them so thoroughly with all the trappings of charlatanry.

But Aron Ra’s wife was asking for a simple refutation of presuppositionalism. There isn’t one. I like to use the gritty complexity of everything, an everything that isn’t described anywhere in the Bible, to highlight the inadequacy of their premises, but it rarely has much effect, because every presuppositionalist I’ve ever meet refuses to look beyond the intentionally and entirely artificially limited boundaries of their predetermined worldview. I do think that ultimately it is only a confrontation with reality that can wake them up; otherwise, they’ll just sit there spinning in their snug little cocoon of circular logic.