Happy Darwin Day!


I hope you all have grand plans to celebrate. I’m a bit swamped with work today, so I think I’ll be deferring my holiday to this weekend.

I think I’ll go to Florida. We’ve just dug out from a blizzard, so I think it’s brilliant of me to flit down to Fort Lauderdale.

Hmm. Maybe I should visit Broward College while I’m in the neighborhood. It looks like a good place.

And as long as I’m there, I should join in the Broward Darwin Day event, give a couple of talks, maybe say hello to James Randi, you know, the usual.

It’s what Charles Darwin would do.

Kate Clancy tackles Evolutionary Psychology

It is a very good and measured response that highlights the flaws in bad evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology, the study of human psychological adaptations, does not have a popular or scientific reputation for being rigorous, even though there are rigorous, thoughtful scientists in the field. The field is trying to take on an incredibly challenging task: understand what of human behavior is adaptive and why. We can better circumvent the conditions that lead to violence, war, and hatred if we know as much as we can about why we are the way we are. What motivates us, excites us, angers us, and how can evolutionary theory help us understand it all?

Because of this, there are consequences to a bad evolutionary psychology interpretation of the world. The biggest problem, to my mind, is that so often the conclusions of the bad sort of evolutionary psychology match the stereotypes and cultural expectations we already hold about the world: more feminine women are more beautiful, more masculine men more handsome; appearance is important to men while wealth is important to women; women are prone to flighty changes in political and partner preference depending on the phase of their menstrual cycles. Rather than clue people in to problems with research design or interpretation, this alignment with stereotype further confirms the study. Variation gets erased: in bad evolutionary psychology, there are only straight people, and everyone wants the same things in life. Our brains are iPhones, each app designed for its own special adaptive purpose.

I’ve still got plans to post more on this subject, but an unfortunate event has blocked me. I was going to make my next post on evolutionary psychology one that focused on some of the papers, and in particular, I wanted to discuss a good paper or two, so that I could start off on the right tone. And people sent me links and papers.

Only problem: they were all awful. Every one. I couldn’t believe that even these papers that some people were telling me were the best of the bunch were so lacking in rigor and so rife with unjustified assumptions. I read through about a dozen before I gave up in disgust and decided that there were better things to do in my time.

I’d ask again, but I was burned so badly on that last go-round that I’d have a jaundiced view of any recommendation now.

Who cares if the pope retires?

Get rid of one, and they’re just going to appoint another one. It’s not as if the job description has changed: the primary criteria are the ability to profess brain-buggering bullshit and work your way through the arcane medieval hierarchy of church politics, so it’s not as if we’re going to be surprised. It’s going to be another old guy who has dedicated his entire life to superstitious nonsense.

How I’ll always remember this pope:

Stupid blizzard

We got about a foot of snow here this weekend, and a blizzard is supposed to blow through after midnight…so the university has cancelled all the early morning classes, including my 8am developmental biology course! How dare they!

This weekend, I got the next two weeks worth of lectures all prepped, and now I’m so disappointed that I don’t get to talk about this really cool stuff tomorrow. But I guess that’s better than having students kill themselves on slickery nasty roads in white-out conditions. I guess.

Atheists are responsible for creationism!

Here’s something that really, really annoys me: clueless idiots who blame atheism for creationism.

I don’t have stats but I strongly suspect that the strenghtening of creationism with the simultaneous rise of public atheism is not a coincidence.

That isn’t just ahistorical ignorance: it requires such short-sightedness that they aren’t able to look back even a decade.

The major events in creationism that led to their expansion were the publications of the Scofield Reference Bible and The Fundamentals in the early years of the 20th century, and the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961. Neither periods were associated with a rise in atheism. The first actually coincides with the third Great Awakening; I don’t want to diminish the importance of Robert Ingersoll and the Golden Age of Freethought, but lets not pretend that these were serious challenges to the ubiquitous association of the church with morality and political power. They were promises of secularism that didn’t threaten the status quo all that much, yet. If you wanted something that was scaring many conservatives of that time, look to the Suffrage Movement. I don’t see many people arguing that women’s rights were responsible for creationism, but I expect they are out there.

The second major event in creationism came after the entrenchment of Christianity in the 1950s as part of the Cold War. Our money was splattered with “in God we trust” and “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance in the 1950s; where, pray tell, were the loud aggressive atheists who prompted those religious actions in that period? Is anyone seriously going to argue that the era of the gray flannel suit and Ward Cleaver and the Red Menace was a time of high atheist activity?

Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s lawsuit to end the reading of the Bible in public schools was settled by the Supreme Court in 1963. It was not a trigger for widespread public piety, but was a response to that association of patriotism and civil life and religiosity that had been brewing in this country since the end of World War II. American Atheists was founded after “in God we trust”. Finding a causal relationship that pins the blame on atheism has a few temporal difficulties.

The Institute for Creation Research was founded in 1972. Answers in Genesis was founded in 1980. The NCSE was established in 1983, in response to the rising influence of creationism in the schools (and it is explicitly NOT an atheist organization). No one was trying to insert atheism into the schools in the 1960s. No one is trying to do that even now, but we’ve been dealing with efforts to push Genesis crap and faith-based bullshit in the schools for at least 60 years.

The Moral Majority was big news in the early 1980s, and was founded in 1979. I was wide awake and politically aware in the 1980s; there were no big atheist role models making a noise in the public sphere, they were still little more than a despised minority at the time, and most people were surprised to learn that atheists even existed in America.

The recent rise of public atheism can be traced to a number of influential books. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, by Susan Jacoby, published in 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason in 2004 and Letter to a Christian Nation in 2006, by Sam Harris. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins in 2006.

It’s been less than ten goddamned years.

And we’ve still got idiots claiming they see a correlation between creationism/public religiosity and outspoken atheists.

Listen, whenever you see someone making that claim, you know you’ve found an idiot talking out of their ass. Give them a look of contempt and walk away.