Fun with the Jesus people

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Last Wednesday, we had on our campus at Case Western Reserve University the promised free distribution of Ray Comfort’s printing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with an introduction by him containing his pathetic attempts at combating evolution.

The distribution seemed as if it was being done by community people and not by our own students. I did not get a copy myself but a number of people were gathered at the intersection just outside my office handing out religious tracts. I was stopped by a middle-aged woman who gave me a pamphlet and asked me if I believed in god. I said no. She asked me why not and I said that there was no reason to believe in god.

I asked her why she believed in god and she said that god spoke to her. I said, Really? You actually hear voices in your head? Yes, she said. I asked, What language does this voice speak and in what accent? She said English and added that god would speak to me in my own language and in my own accent. I said that I never heard such voices and that was why I did not believe but since she spoke to god, I asked her to ask god to tell her the serial number of the dollar bill in my wallet to convince me that the voice she heard really was god. She looked pained. That would be mocking god, she said. Why, I asked? It just would and she would not do that. I decided not to press her further on this point.
[Read more…]

Harun Yahya on evolution

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

In the previous post, I discussed the book The Creation of the Universe (2000) distributed under the name of Harun Yahya, which is the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, a Muslim creationist based in Turkey. He has now put out an even more expensive 800-page glossy publication called Atlas of Creation (2006) that gives the creationist arguments against evolution. He has not deigned to send me a copy of it as yet, maybe because I am not on lists of biologist academics or I have dropped down in the rankings of worthy recipients. Darn!

They say politics make for strange bedfellows but so, apparently, does religion. Perhaps no group in America is as hostile to Islam as the evangelical/fundamentalist Christians. But this group has also demonstrated that when it comes to advancing their cause, they are willing to forge alliances with almost anyone. We have seen them cavorting with right-wing Israeli politicians in supporting their appallingly repressive policies towards the Palestinians in the occupied territories because they think such policies advance the day of the glorious Rapture. Of course, on that day Jews and all the other infidels will be slaughtered in a bloody rampage by the forces of Melvin. Why would Melvin commit such mass murder? Because he loves us.

Now, adopting the old dictum of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, American Christians are also joining up with Oktar/Yahya to spread their anti-evolution message worldwide. Scholars have found that Muslim creationists are importing creationist ideas from America to foster their own anti-science extremism in the Islamic world

What is disturbing is that Muslim creationists are not only spreading anti-evolution thinking, but are using it to buttress a virulent form of Islamic fundamentalism that sees the ‘Christian’ west as an enemy. This unholy alliance of supposedly holy groups is going to breed even more extremism.

Islamic creationists differ from Christian creationists in that they are not committed to a young Earth idea. They are willing to accept that the Earth has existed for billions of years. Their range of anti-science views go from demanding that all living species were special creations of god to one in which all species except humans have evolved. But they all denounce the theory of evolution by natural selection as not only wrong but as an idea that has had evil consequences.

As I said in the previous post, Oktar/Yahya’s book The Creation of the Universe (2000) deals mostly with the origins of the physical universe but he has an appendix titled The Evolution Deceit that rehashes the old, familiar, and discredited creationist arguments against evolution.

He says that there must be a creator since all the things that we see could not have occurred by ‘coincidence’ (which is the word he uses for chance), thus ignoring the fact that natural selection is anything but chance but is a highly directed process. He calculates the odds that the base sequences in amino acids and proteins could have occurred by pure chance and writes out the result with a huge number of zeros.

He then reproduces the same bizarre argument about hybrids as Christian creationists, saying that evolution requires a “a bird popped all of a sudden out of a reptile egg” and “the existence of half-bird/half-reptile or half-fish/half-reptile freaks”. Since none of these have been found, evolution must be false (p. 180). He also has the same mistaken idea that a ‘transitional’ form means something less than perfect, saying “Every living species appears instantaneously and in its current form, perfect and complete, in the fossil record.” (p. 184)

Oktar/Yahya has had a love-hate relationship with the intelligent design creationism movement. In his 2000 book, he speaks favorably about ID because they are against evolution. But in a more recent press release, he denounced intelligent design as “another of Satan’s distractions”, since they did not explicitly acknowledge that Allah is the creator of all things but instead spoke vaguely of a ‘designer’ or some kind of ‘force’. Oktar/Yahya has no patience for such wishy-washy euphemisms.

However, ever since the 2005 Dover, PA trial shattered the ID façade that theirs was not a religious theory, intelligent design creationists have been more open about the fact that their secretive designer is none other than (drum roll, please) Melvin. So now Oktar/Yahya seems to be willing to join up with them again.

The Discovery Institute, backers of the intelligent design version of creationism, have seemingly joined forces with Oktar/Yahya, thus finally shedding all pretenses that what they were advocating was a purely scientific idea.

So the Christian and Muslim creationists are joining forces against evolution. But it is only a matter of time before these two groups turn against each other because, after all, Islam and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible belief systems. They each think their own god is the true one and their own book is the one true revelation. They cannot both be right. Allah and Melvin cannot co-exist.

POST SCRIPT: Richard Dawkins on Harun Yahya

Dawkins gives a talk to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain where he exposes the shallowness of Oktar/Yahya’s book against evolution. Dawkins speaks for 16 minutes and then takes questions from the audience.

Unfortunately, the video does not show some of the images Dawkins projects on the screen that illustrate the ludicrousness of Oktar/Yahya’s claims, but you can see a few of them here.

Islamic creationism and Harun Yahya

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Some readers may have heard of Harun Yahya, the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, a creationist in the Islamic world who is based in Turkey, who uses as arguments against evolution the same absence of bizarre hybrids as Duane Gish and Kirk Cameroon, although he differs from them in that he is an old-Earth creationist.

Oktar/Yahya seems to have, like his American creationist counterparts, rich backers who are willing to stay in the background and shell out huge sums of money to advance their beliefs. In Oktar/Yahya’s case it has enabled him to create a large cult-like organization. He has been convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for running a criminal organization. He is awaiting the outcome of his final appeal to the Turkish Supreme Court.
[Read more…]

Transitional forms

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

In the previous post, I said that one thing that keeps creationists from ‘seeing’ the truth of evolution is that their teleological viewpoint makes them think that species in their current form are the aim of creation. If that is the case, why would god bother making anything else? Hence ancestral forms of current species that are unlike anything that currently exist simply have no place in their model.

Another mental block that prevents them from seeing transitional forms for what they are also arises due to this teleological viewpoint. Here they are misled by the very word ‘transitional’, which suggests something less that perfect and on the way to perfection.

In an online debate with Eugenie Scott, the head of the National Center for Science Education, Ray Comfort makes the following jaw-dropping statement where he illustrates this misconception by pointing to what he thinks is the weakness of the theory of evolution:

Nothing we have in creation is half evolved. The cow has a working udder to make drinkable milk. The bee has working apparatus to make edible honey. We don’t find a half-evolved cow or bee. None of the 1.4 million species on the Earth has half an eye. All have the necessary functioning equipment, from the brain, to the teeth, to the eye, to limbs, to reproductive necessities. Everything that we see in creation is in full working order—from the sun, to the mixture of the air, to the seasons, to fruit trees and vegetables, to the animal kingdom—from the tiny ant right up to the massive elephant.

But not only do we see this mature completion in creation; we see it displayed in the fossil record. It reveals that each animal was complete.

I went to the Smithsonian to see the fossils galore, and they were there—millions of fossils that were evidence of special creation. The Smithsonian didn’t have any transitional fossils that proved evolution (staunch believers claim that they have them, but not on display). I also visited the evolution museum in Paris (Grande Galerie de L’Evolution). I took a camera crew, and we spent an hour looking for the evolution exhibit. It didn’t have one. All it had were millions of fossils of fully formed animals that God created (my italics).

This is a perfect example of creationists not ‘seeing’ the evidence for evolution that the rest of us see. It reveals the creationist teleological belief that everything we have now is in its final form and is functioning as designed. The very use of the phrase ‘half evolved’ reveals the deep misconceptions originating from a teleological viewpoint, because that phrase is meaningless unless one sees current species as being in their final, perfectly functioning forms.

In this view, a ‘transitional’ form must be something less than perfectly functioning. What Comfort thinks evolution predicts is that transitional forms should consist of animals malformed in weird ways, like cows with udders that do not produce milk or bees that have not figured out yet how to make honey or human beings with only one leg. This displays a staggering ignorance of the most basic elements of how evolution works. But because Comfort has a teleological view that starts from the end, he cannot see that all of us, even though we are fully functioning and adapted to our present environment, are also at the same time transitional forms even though we don’t know how we will evolve in the future.

Evolution tells us what we evolved from, not what we are evolving to. Every species that lives now or has ever lived is both ‘fully evolved’ (in that it is the result of successful adaptations to its past environments) and a transitional form (in that it will evolve in the future as a result of new environmental pressures). There is no such thing as being ‘fully evolved’ in the Comfort sense of having reached unchanging perfection.

There are only three reasons I can think of for people making the kinds of extraordinary statements that Comfort makes above.

One is, of course, outright stupidity, coupled with ignorance. One should never rule that out.

Another reason is dishonesty, in that they know they are spreading falsehoods about what evolution is but think that saving souls for Jesus compensates for lying to them. One cannot rule that out either. The ranks of religious liars and charlatans are legion.

The third and most charitable explanation, which is what I am suggesting in this series of posts, is that that they simply haven’t been able to make the Gestalt-type switch from the old teleological and Platonic worldview to the modern scientific one. While scientists can look at living organisms and fossils and see them as both fully functioning and transitional, creationists can see only a ‘fully evolved’ object. This is an almost perfect example of what happens when you cannot make the Gestalt switch to see two images while viewing a single object. While scientists can look at the image below and see both a duck and a rabbit, for creationists the duck is still only a duck, and as a consequence, the two pointy-things on the left can only be its bill.

Duck-Rabbit_illusion.jpg

It is quite sad.

POST SCRIPT: Here’s a ‘fully evolved’ ape

From the BBC comedy show Not the Nine O’Clock News.

Why creationists do not ‘see’ evolution

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

One specific creationist religious belief whose origins I have been curious about is the bizarre argument that is advanced by anti-evolution religious people about how the lack of transitional fossils is undermining the theory of evolution. This argument mystifies scientists because of course there are huge numbers of such fossils. The evidence is incontrovertible. In fact, every living or fossilized organism can also be considered a transitional form, since change is constant. It should also be borne in mind that Darwin arrived at his theory without having the wealth of fossils that are now available, basing his arguments largely on biogeography, the similarities in body patterns of animals, embryology, and the existence of vestigial organs. Nowadays, the fossils that keep being found and the relationships that have been discovered between the DNA molecules of species have sealed the case for evolution.
[Read more…]

The power of subconscious theories

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

The existence and history of religion tells us that people are willing to believe things for which there is no evidence and that they will fight to hold on to them even in the face of overwhelming evidence and arguments to the contrary. But when those beliefs collapse, as they sometimes do, the switch to disbelief can often be quite sudden. I know that in my case, I had been struggling (unsuccessfully) to reconcile my scientific ideas with that of a god for some time. The realization that everything made a lot more sense if there was no god hit me like a Gestalt switch.

One specific creationist religious belief whose origins I have been curious about is the bizarre argument that is advanced by anti-evolution religious people about how the lack of transitional fossils is undermining the theory of evolution. This argument mystifies scientists because it is so palpably wrong and the fossil evidence is so strong. So where does this weird idea come from? And why does it persist?

As much of research in science education has shown, robust misconceptions are often not simply bits of false knowledge (like thinking that Portland is the capital of the state of Maine) that can be easily corrected, but instead are the manifestations of elaborate theories that emerge from a deeply rooted but fundamentally flawed premise. As long as that flawed premise remains intact and unexamined, the misconceptions that flow from it will reappear even if countered in specific cases.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own teaching of electricity to people without a science background. One of the strong misconceptions that people have about electric current is that it emerges from a source (a battery or an electrical outlet), flows through the wire, and is then ‘used up’ by the radio or light or whatever device it is connected to. They also think that a battery always supplies the same amount of current. Based on this model of electricity, they will then make wrong predictions about how current will flow in more complicated circuits, say by connecting two or more devices to the same source of current.

In actuality, current is never used up. It just flows around in a circuit. Current flows out of one end of the battery (or other source), goes through one wire to the device, passes through the device, and then flows back through another wire into the other end of the battery. The amount of current flowing out of the battery at one end is exactly equal to the amount of current flowing into it at the other end. But it is extraordinarily hard to persuade novice learners of this model, even when they want to learn about electricity and have no reasons to resist it. After all, the Bible does not say anything about electricity. When I tell them how current really behaves, they believe me because I am an authority figure. But yet the misconceptions persist.

If you teach the right model of current to people and then ask them a direct question about how current flows, they will give back the right answer. But when they are asked something indirect, like giving them a circuit and asking them to predict how current will flow, very often they will come up with an answer that is at variance with how it really will behave. If you trace the reasoning of the wrong answer back to its source, you will find that it arises from their original misconception of current being used up and the battery producing a fixed amount of current, even though they consciously thought they had rejected that old way of thinking. When you point this out, they will think that this time they have definitely overcome the misconception. But when they are given a yet more complicated circuit, very often they will make a wrong prediction again, based on the same underlying misconception.

It is only after it has been repeatedly pointed out to them the important role that their basic deep misconception plays in their surface thinking that they switch to seeing the current flowing in a circuit. Once they make that switch in their basic misconception, there is no going back. They cannot imagine that they could have ever thought otherwise.

The reason this particular misconception about current is so deeply held is because people have constructed it on their own. Most of them are not even aware that they have this underlying theory of electricity because they have not consciously thought about it. The theory is built intuitively. Nobody taught it to them, they just ‘picked it up’ because it makes sense. After all, they know that appliances have a power cord that must be connected to an electrical supply system in order to work. They know that electrical devices ‘use up’ power because batteries eventually die. The power cord looks like a single tube, like a garden hose, and thus electricity seems like it can flow only in one direction. All these things make sense by assuming their simple model. Most people do not look more closely and wonder why the plug has two prongs and they do not break open the wires or their devices and find that there are incoming and outgoing pathways for the current.

The theories that people intuitively create for themselves are the hardest to refute because they are buried deeply in their thinking and are not consciously articulated by them. The consequences of these misconceptions are often erroneous but if we only correct the consequences without understanding and addressing the source, then we will find that same misconception rearing its head each time a novel situation is encountered.

The misconceptions about how evolution works are of the same kind. They are created deep in the minds of people at an early age, often by well meaning, science-supporting adults who tell their children that ‘we evolved from monkeys’ and by some of the visual images that we have of the process of evolution, such as the one that draws it as fish→amphibian→monkey→human (with the drawing of each showing what a current typical specimen looks like).

Once these misconceptions about evolution take root at an early age by a process of intuitive thinking, they become, just like the false electricity models, hard to dislodge in adulthood even by confronting people with the most clear reasoning.

As Jonathan Swift said, “You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.”

Next: The role that deep misconceptions play in evolution

POST SCRIPT: How not to stalk off an interview

It is not uncommon for guests on TV or radio to get miffed about something, throw a fit, and stalk off the set. Some may even do it deliberately as a strategy, knowing it will get them publicity. But it sometimes doesn’t work out well, with some forgetting to take off either the earpiece or the mike and getting yanked, resulting in a less-than-impressive exit.

But the award for the worst interview termination must surely go to Carrie Prejean. Remember her? Here are some keywords to jog your memory: Miss California who was stripped of her title, supporter of ‘opposite marriage’, breast implants, topless photos, Donald Trump, lawsuit against Miss USA pageant, sex video.

While on a tour promoting her book, she was irked by a question posed by Larry King of all people, who is notorious for his softball questions. So she removes her mike but instead of then walking off the set, she just sits there, talks to someone off-camera, and smiles at the camera as if she was competing in a pageant, leaving King baffled as to what is going on. Watch.

The key steps in adopting evolution

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Making a Gestalt-type switch is often aided by nudges from outside sources, and in the case of evolution, two such factors came into play: the age of the Earth and concerns about the effects of human population growth.

Darwin was fortunate that he lived in a time when advances in knowledge in other areas, such as the idea of uniformitarianism in geology, were coming along at the same time that he was pondering all the things he was observing on his voyage on the Beagle. The first edition of the first volume of Charles Lyell’s highly influential book The Principles of Geology was published in 1830 and was given to Darwin to read on his voyage on the Beagle that began in 1831. Its argument that small changes (such as erosion) can accumulate over long periods of time to produce major geological features such as mountains and gorges had an impact on him.

By measuring the rates of erosion and sedimentation that were occurring in his own time and calculating how long it would take at that rate to produce the existing rivers and canyons, Lyell concluded that the Earth must be hundreds of millions of years old. Furthermore, Lyell’s books discussed some of the fossil evidence that existed at that time because he used them as aids in arriving at the ages of rocks, although Lyell himself believed in special creation.

The fact that the Earth was now possibly hundreds of millions of years old, rather than merely thousands, created an intellectual environment that was more open to acceptance of the idea that new species can gradually evolve from old ones, because that needed long time spans too.

Darwin (and also Wallace) had a Gestalt-type switch when he was struggling to find the mechanism that causes species to evolve in a way that seemed to indicate directionality. The trigger was Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) that argued that populations would grow exponentially, except for the fact that they encounter limited resources that restricts growth because of starvation and premature death. This gave Darwin the idea that natural selection could serve as the mechanism he was looking for. In The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882 (Nora Barlow (ed), 1958, page 120), he describes his epiphany in ways that suggest a Gestalt-type switch:

In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work. (my italics)

Darwin and Wallace saw that if there are variations, then it makes sense that some variations are more likely to survive to adulthood and produce more offspring than others. If this advantageous property is heritable and passed on to its offspring then, over time, that particular variation will dominate the population. And by a very long series of such small changes, new species would emerge.

Once Darwin saw the world in this new way, there was no going back. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I have argued that the kinds of switches in viewing the world that Darwin and Wallace experienced are like Gestalt switches in perception. When one changes one’s perspective, suddenly things fall into place and new patterns emerge. What seemed inexplicable, mysterious, and even impossible before suddenly seems clear and even obvious. And once the new way of seeing things is pointed out to others, they immediately see it as obvious too. As Thomas Huxley said after learning how the theory of evolution worked, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” As a result, the new view spreads like wildfire.

But even when told what to look for, not everyone makes the switch. There are some people who never see the new pattern, either because of a rigidity of attitude or, as we will see in the next posting in the case of evolution, because they do not want to see the new pattern because they cannot bear to give up the old one. For them the duck remains a duck and they never see a rabbit.

Next: The mental block of creationists

POST SCRIPT: Well, that didn’t take long!

On Tuesday, I wrote about the atheist billboard campaign in Ohio, putting up three billboards near Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Some godly people in the Cincinnati area have already taken offense and threatened violence, requiring the billboard to be moved to another location.

See here for more details.

Gestalt switches in evolution

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

After Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, large numbers of people were convinced in a very short time by his arguments, although full acceptance of the mechanism of natural selection took longer. But the idea of evolution had been in the air for some time. Why didn’t people before him see what Darwin and his co-discoverer Alfred Russell Wallace saw, since they had access to much of the same evidence that he had?

A possible reason is because the theory of evolution also required a Gestalt-type switch. People had been viewing the world through a prism of Platonic ideal forms. In the Platonic view, real objects are approximations to their ideal forms and it is only the ideal forms that matter and from which we get true information. So for example, for any triangle that we draw on paper, the angles will not add up to exactly 180 degrees because of the inevitable imperfections of our drawing and the inaccuracies of our measuring instruments. But the angles of all ideal triangles (that we can only conceive of in our minds) will always add up to 180 degrees, and it is the properties of that ideal form that is important to understand, not our real-life approximations.

While this way of looking at things is perfectly suited for mathematics, it leads people hopelessly astray when applied to biology. In the case of biological organisms, the Platonic model translates into thinking of each species as having an ideal form and of real organisms as just approximations that can and do deviate from the ideal in unimportant ways. So real chickens, with all their variety, are just imperfect manifestations of the ideal, perfect chicken that we can only conceive of in our minds. It is this perfect chicken that we need to study to understand what makes a chicken a chicken, the essence of chickenhood.

But the problem is that the ideal perfect chicken will necessarily always remains the same and cannot evolve into anything else, just like a triangle will not become a square nor will the sum of its angles slowly change with time. Platonic thinking rules out change but is perfectly consistent with the idea of a god creating every species as perfect unchangeable beings and part of a grand plan.

Darwin and Wallace both realized that it is the real forms of organisms that are important, not its idealized version, and furthermore that there are no ideal forms in biology. There is no idealized chicken. The variations found in real chickens, rather than being a nuisance detracting from our understanding of the ideal chicken, actually contain the key to understanding the nature of chickens and how they and other things can change. This shift in perception made the variations in a species central to our understanding, and not peripheral.

The likely reason that Darwin and Wallace may have been able to make the switch is because they spent some time traveling to other parts of the world and saw much more of the variety of life than those who stayed pretty much in one locality. Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle confronted him with so much new information about the diversity of life in so many new locations that it forced him into new ways of thinking. Alfred Russell Wallace also had his epiphany while travelling through Asia collecting biological specimens that were exotic and new to him.

Once Darwin and Wallace had made this switch, things started falling into place. They realized that if one adds up these small variations cumulatively over a long time, then even though each one is so small that it cannot be observed with the naked eye or even in one’s lifetime, it can add up to huge changes, resulting in the emergence of new species, something that was ruled out by Platonic thinking.

Two things stood in the way of making such an idea workable. It seemed to require an inordinate amount of time, much longer than people at that time thought the Earth had existed, and it lacked a plausible mechanism for species change. An obvious objection to their model that they needed to find an answer for was why should the variations in organisms cumulatively add up to result in large changes? Why could they not simply vary randomly leaving, on average, no net change?

This is where other factors can play a role in making a Gestalt switch in perception.

Next: The key steps in ‘seeing’ evolution

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart parodies Glenn Beck

This clip has been all over the political blogs but it is well worth seeing. Utterly hilarious.

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Perception changes in physics

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

In an earlier post, I suggested (following Thomas Kuhn) that Gestalt-type switches can play an important role in the creation and adoption of new theories in science. Today I want to look at specific examples of such changes.

Take the case of a simple pendulum, made by hanging a small weight from a fixed point by a string and setting it in motion by pulling it back and releasing it. What had been observed from time immemorial is the weight swinging back and forth with decreasing amplitude before finally coming to rest at the lowest point in its trajectory. People used to interpret this motion as the pendulum weight, when released, ‘seeking’ (to use anthropomorphic language) to get to its final resting place at the lowest point in its trajectory, but initially overshooting the mark, trying again to get to the lowest point, overshooting again by a smaller amount, and so on, until it finally reaches its destination and stays there.
[Read more…]

Atheist billboard campaign comes to Ohio

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)

The North East Ohio Coalition of Reason (NEO-CoR), affiliated with the nationwide United Coalition of Reason (United COR), announced that the first billboards promoting atheism in Ohio have gone up as of today.

In our region it will be on I-480.

NightSmall.jpg

Many of the NEO-CoR’s members involved in this project come from the Cleveland Freethinkers and the Center for Inquiry Northeast Ohio (CFINO).

Similar billboards will appear in Columbus and Cincinatti.

Religious people tend to get in a real lather about public statements of disbelief, even though religious messages are all over the place. When a similar campaign by the Big Apple COR put ads on New York city subways that said, “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”, Sean Hannity said that people would be outraged if Christians put up religious signs in subways.

But as Think Progress pointed out, such religious signs are in fact commonplace. All that Hannity’s statement shows is that he must never take the subway.

Fred Edwords, former communications director of the American Humanists Association (AHA) and now head of United COR, appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show in November of last year because of another ad campaign on buses in Washington DC that said “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake” that O’Reilly saw (of course) as part of the war on Christmas.

(Speaking of the War on Christmas, where has the time gone? Here it is November again already, and I haven’t made any preparations whatsoever for this year’s war against the godly. Tsk, tsk, shame on me. All you warriors out there, remember that you have only 45 days left to ruin Christmas for everyone by wishing people “Season’s Greetings” or, if you are feeling really mean spirited, “Happy Holidays.”)

In Des Moines, Iowa, an atheist ad campaign that merely said “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” was deemed to be too offensive and removed from buses. The governor of the state Chet Culver was “disturbed” by the ads, the poor baby.

One bus driver in Des Moines even refused to drive a bus that carried the ad, saying that the message was against her Christian faith. That is truly pathetic.

The Arizona COR has a nice video explaining what this movement is all about and the benefits of reason over faith.

I am curious to see what the reaction to the billboards will be in Ohio, which is quite a religious part of the country.

POST SCRIPT: The indefensible history of the Catholic church

The BBC sponsored a debate on the proposition “The Catholic church is a force for good in the world”. Speaking in favor was John Onaiyekan, an Archbishop from Nigeria, and Ann Widdecombe, a British MP who used to be an Episcopalian but became a Catholic when her former church began ordaining women priests. Speaking against were Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry.

It was a rout. Hitchens and Fry utterly trounced their opponents. This is not just my opinion. Even the Catholic columnist for the Guardian newspaper said so, but the voting of the audience was the most decisive:

Before the debate: In favor 678, against 1102, undecided 346
After the debate: In favor 268, against 1876, undecided 34

Over 400 initial supporters of the proposition actually switched to the opposite side, which was an unprecedented swing in the history of these debates.

You can see the debate below.