Another disappointment from the Collins site

I could hardly believe it when I saw it, but the BioLogos site uses the familiar creationist second law of thermodynamics argument.

Francis Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and he should know very well what the meaning of entropy is (he should be far more familiar with the concept than a mere biologist like me should be), and he’s using the concept of entropy to argue against natural causes in the expansion of the universe … and then he turns around and explains that it is not an obstacle to biological evolution. The man is confused and inconsistent. This is crap I’d expect from Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, but not from a well-respected scientist.

Ich werde reisen an den Bodensee

Good news for me! I get to spend a week in Germany, attending the Nobel Laureate meetings at Lindau on 28 June-3 July. I get to have all the fun, but at least you’ll benefit indirectly, since I’ll be regularly blogging the talks here. In English. You wouldn’t want to see the butchery I would do to the lovely German language.

I was looking over the schedule, and what jumped out at me right after seeing all those great titles was that they are actually confining Nobel laureates to only half-hour talks. That will be something to see, too.

Ireland proposes a blasphemy law

I need details of this law against blasphemy. If “Begorrah!” and “Saints preserve us!” are outlawed, then Irish stereotypes will be utterly demolished. On the other hand, one Irish fellow I knew used the peculiar expression “fewkin'” as every other word…I presume charming references to sexual acts will not be regarded as blasphemous? Otherwise, the charm of the Irish vernacular will be lost to us forever.

Here is the only definition I’ve seen so far.

“Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Wait, they’re going to make this work in Ireland? So the government plans on censoring every mention of “Catholic” and “Protestant” because they’ll spark outrage in some subset of the population? I think that, in general, prohibiting things because some fraction of the population will feel outraged at the concept would effectively mean that everything should be outlawed. I know I could stand outside any church or cathedral, stamp my foot, and fulminate at length — if only I were Irish, I could stroll the land, casting the priestly snakes off the island.


Oh, no…it’s an irresistible magnet. Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, with funding from the Templeton Foundation (who else?), have put together a whole website full of fluffy bunnies and pious weasels to reconcile science and faith. It’s a rich vein of the worst of pseudo-scientific apologetics, and I am stunned by it — not because I am impressed by the substance, but because it is such a target-rich environment. Having read both Collins’ Language of God, with it’s amazing conversion experience that had to have impressed all with its depth and majesty, and the equally wooly-minded Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I can say I knew these two would have put together a web site exactly like this.

Like I say, I’m overwhelmed with the tripe available on that site, so I’ll just have to take a poke at one small example. They actually have a page to address the question of How does the evil and suffering in the world align with the idea of a loving God?. As one who often hears the atheists accused of being philosophically shallow, this page is a consolation: it’s a collection of tired cliches that don’t answer the question. There’s the usual “Free will!” blather, and the “god works in mysterious ways” nonsense, and as a special bonus, there’s the extra-special “We Christians are special because our god suffered, too” excuse (which answers nothing, but raises many more questions about this contradictory deity of theirs). One curious thing about the approach this site takes is that it is slathered with Jesus everywhere — if you aren’t already a New Testament lovin’ evangelical, you are not going to be at all impressed.

But here’s one special case of their problem of evil logic, of interest to us non-Jebusites.

Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists

Evil also poses problems for the nonbeliever. Claims that torture is wrong even though the victims of torture might be terrorists with useful information appeal to some external standard. But what is this standard? Such claims need to be grounded in something if they are to be asserted with such confidence. So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

Um, no. This is all wrong. Evil is not a problem for us. I believe that we are a rare cosmic accident in an impersonal and hostile universe — the natural state is one which is largely inimical to our existence. I also don’t think human beings are designed at all, but evolved by natural mechanisms, and that we are not by any means optimized for anything, let alone any kind of local definition of goodness. That bad things happen, that accidents occur, that many normal events can lead to our death or suffering, that humans are flawed and can harm one another…all of that is to be expected. We atheists certainly do not have the kind of problem with evil that a believer in a universal benignity would have, so this is a bit of a dodge.

Now you could turn it around and say that atheists have a problem with goodness, which is ultimately what Collins/Giberson are trying to say. But once again, Collins makes the same mistake he did in his book — he can’t imagine any source of morality other than an external imposition by a moral entity, and reveals again that he doesn’t actually have any understanding of evolution.

We are social animals. We are the children of a particular kind of animal that improved their chances of survival and reproduction by cooperation, working together as a family/tribe/nation. We have an operational, working definition of what is good and evil that is defined by our history: goodness is that which has promoted the survival of our community and ourselves. Anyone who has a reasonable grasp of Darwinian logic ought to be able to see that this is the kind of property that can emerge from forces entirely within a group’s history, with no exogenous agent required.

I certainly do have grounds to be outraged at the use of torture. Those are fellow human beings who are experiencing pain: I empathize with them, I see them as fellow members of the greater community of humanity, and I can rationally see that a society that allows torture is one in which I and my family are less safe. I do not need a little god sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “Oh, PZ, you aren’t supposed to enjoy that person’s suffering”.

My sense of horror and outrage points me to a common humanity, not some invisible magic man who wills it because he works in mysterious ways.

Oh, and by the way, any rationalization that claims that “if god doesn’t exist, then you have no reason to be moral” is making the fallacy of arguing from consequences. It does not imply the truth of the statement. You’d think a couple of high-powered Christian apologists flying high on buckets of money from a billionaire might have been able to avoid errors in logic 101, but nah…these are guys with brain-poisoning from an overdose of faith.

Also by the way, Jerry Coyne has his own favorite parts of the site. Maybe you do too!

Poll time! Everyone take a poke at Florida

You’ve all seen the hideous Florida license plates, right? Well, the Orlando Sentinel has a poll to see whether people think it’s reasonable for a secular state government to be punching out plates endorsing a weird sectarian faith. So far, the kind of people who read the Sentinel think it is. I wonder what the kind of people who read Pharyngula think…

Should Florida lawmakers allow specialty state license plates with religious messages?

Yes. Floridians who are religious should have the right to pay more to show it on their plates. (3592 responses)
Yes. Why is this any different than letting Floridians buy plates to benefit other causes they believe in, like saving manatees? (1131 responses)
No. This goes crashing through the wall that should separate church and state. (1325 responses)
No, because every religion — and atheists — will be able to demand a license plate. (112 responses)

Not enough Christians read books, I guess

In a promising sign of the decline of some forms of Christianity, a major Christian book show has been cancelled.

The show won’t go on in Dallas. The Christian Book Expo, an innovative consumer-focused book show, won’t be repeated next year. The board of Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, show sponsor, decided not to stage another event in 2010. Attendance at this year’s show, held March 20-22 at the Dallas Convention Center, was 1,500; organizers had hoped for 10,000 to 15,000. The show left the organization with a $250,000 shortfall, according to ECPA president and CEO Mark Kuyper. “We want to clean up the debt before we consider future options,” Kuyper told PW in an e-mail.

Once you’ve got your Bible and your copies of the Left Behind books, your good evangelical doesn’t need much more. And most of ’em won’t even read those.

Oh, joy. Another Creation ‘Science’ Fair

In February of next year, the odious Ken Ham will be hosting a so-called science fair at his awful little “museum”. That’s fine, Christians can do science, but of course it has a little caveat that means it will not be science.

It’s open to homeschoolers, Christian school students, and public school students—as long as you agree with AiG’s Statement of Faith and will conduct a quality experiment, you can apply.

That’s not how science works: you don’t get to specify ahead of time what answers you will find acceptable. If you read that statement of faith, you will discover that many of its article insist on the truth of claims that have long been refuted — such as that there was a global flood, the earth was created in 6 literal 24-hour days, the earth was created recently, etc. — and others are just plain silly. You have to agree that homosexuals are perverts in order to present at this “science” fair!

I guess they won’t be calling me up and asking me to judge.

What’s Bachmann said now?

The crazy lady of Minnesota politics has done it again.

In case you don’t actually want to see and hear this lunatic, here’s what she says:

I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.

She makes it really hard for us Minnesotans to act all snooty and superior around the Texans, you know.

HuffPo flops again

Whenever the Huffington Post brings up a science-related issue, I just cringe. It’s Jim Carrey or Deepak Chopra or some other celebrity incompetent babbling out some nonsense — it’s like the site editors have no B.S. detectors at all. Well, now they’ve really done it: they’ve got some quack named Kim Evans piggy-backing on the recent concerns about a pandemic to offer her own remedies: Got the swine flu? Treat it with an enema. And great dog in heaven, they’ve got another quack touting chiropractic as a treatment for swine flu.

Of course, it’s not just the liberal-leaning Huffpo — every day, the frauds at the conservative website, Human Events, are dunning me with ads to buy Coenzyme Q10! And Magic Exercises to give me washboard abs in only minutes a day! Is this a golden age for quackery now?

Arlen Specter, Democrat

In an act of political expediency, Arlen Specter has switched parties. This is good, in that it gives the Democrats more clout (especially when Minnesota’s senator is finally seated). It’s bad in that we don’t want ex-Republicans to have more voice in the party. We’ll take it, anyway.

The best part of the whole switch, though, is that it is a metric of the problems the conservatives face…no one wants to be seen with them anymore, unless they also happen to be crazy or stupid.