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If you say I descended from a monkey I’ll throw my poop at you.
Sep 1, 2009, 3:25 pm by Paul Stiverson
I just finished watching an interview (it is about 67 minutes long split into 7 parts), wherein Richard Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright (perhaps a mismatching of wits). Dawkins puts her on the ropes pretty quickly, but in one of her jabs back at Dawkins, Wright asks, “Why is it so important to you that everyone believe in evolution?” She goes on “You seem to almost feel like it is dangerous for people to believe that human beings were created individually and with a distinctness, and created by a creator.” I would reply to Wright that it is absolutely not the case that it is dangerous for people to believe in a creator, but that it cannot be viewed as anything but dangerous for so many people to be able to deny the mountain of evidence supporting evolution. It isn’t dangerous in the sense that evolution might get mad and destroy us all, but instead that lacking the critical and abstract thinking skills required to process and potentially rebut the evidence presented is the danger. I am referring to the ability of Wright to ignore any evidence given by saying that it is insignificant in validating macro-evolution (evolution from one species to another).
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the willing and gleeful ignorance of the deeply religious, within the first two pages of the bible god damned man for finding knowledge that he (god) did not impart. Genesis 2:16–17 says “And the lord god commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’” We all know the story: serpent convinces Eve to try a bit, Eve convinces Adam to try a bit, both are then ashamed of their nudity (neither dies that day, thus god is a liar), and the jig is up when god tootles back and casts the two from Eden (also god invents labor pains, and thorny bushes, and introduces a bunch of anti-feminist sentiment into the world… yayy god.). Given the troubles that the tree of knowledge caused for mankind, I can see why Christians are so apt to avoid seeking new knowledge when it comes to the creation story.
When presented with the various steps between ape an man which are present in the fossil record, Wendy claimed that the evidence is not material. As though the only way to “prove” evolution is to witness one species being born of another, this is as absurd as the “If man evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?” argument. She claimed that if evolution were true then there would be an abundance of evolutionary evidence from pond scum up to humans, showing each discreet step in-between. Such a stance shows a lack of understanding in the scientific process and in the nature of scientific research. Despite her scientific shortcomings she insists that teachers should be allowed to “Teach the Controversy” of evolution, and present the shortcomings of Darwinism as well as present the evidence of intelligent design. I really do question the origin (and existence) of any evidence of intelligent design (considering it is purely a matter of faith). It is true that the picture painted by evolutionary scientists is incomplete, and there is still much work to be done to reach the absolute fact of our evolution, but to my knowledge there is very little evidence of a divine creator (please, before you comment, the bible doesn’t qualify as scientific evidence).
Perhaps I’m being too rough on Mrs. Wright. She claims to respect us (by virtue of being evolutionists) and just wants the same from us, “I don't think that there should be as much dissension between our camps, that we can come to respect one another—in fact we do, we respect evolutionists for their beliefs—we would hope that there would be as much respect on the evolutionists part toward us.” It is difficult for me to feign respect for people who challenge widely accepted principles on faith and without evidence. I do appreciate skepticism of evidence because it is essential to the expansion of knowledge, but I refuse to show respect to the ignorant simply because they believe they are right. When Dawkins essentially called her (and her colleagues) ignorant, Wright replied, “It probably would be helpful to the dialog if the evolutionists were not so demeaning and degrading to others.” Which is true, but there really isn’t much of a dialog occurring when one side says “Here’s some dang ol’ evidence”, and the other side covers their ears.
When you hear Mrs. Wright’s reasoning behind rejecting Darwinism you find that it has nothing at all to do with science: “A philosophy that is drawn out of Darwinism would be extremely brutal, and in fact has been… Recognizing that there is a loving creator helps to build a society that is more than just livable but pleasant.” She is right and Dawkins acknowledges that, noting that if our societal structure was built entirely on constant competition for the scarce resources we require then it wouldn’t make for a very pleasant existence. However, the fact of the matter is that the sort of society we would like to live in today has little bearing on how we as a species came into existence. Further, to say that we should stop seeking the facts of our creation (be it through evolution or otherwise) because of the societal implications of those facts is ludicrous.
If you want to believe that we humans were created by god, or even that a duck shat us all out into our mothers’ tummies, then you are welcome to do so. I have no call to stop you, nor would I care to stop you. However, I do have a problem with people who attempt to undermine scientific fact to protect whatever mental illusions they wish to maintain.
On Francis Collins
Jul 29, 2009, 9:44 pm by Zach
Paul sent me a link to this NY Times article about Obama's pick for national director of the NIH, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Most non-scientists are probably pretty in the dark about the NIH, but it's a Very Big Deal. They head up lots of biomedical research and are responsible for giving out lots of grant money to scientists across the US.
Collins is a Christian and a scientist. Without knowing much about him, I'm sure most liberals would roll their eyes and consider this a step backwards. Collins is actually pretty good about separating religion from science. In fact, I'd say he's a great model for demonstrating how the two need not be mutually exclusive. He doesn't promote "intelligent design" and his CV is pretty impressive. He headed up the National Human Genome Research Institute, which will prove to be an invaluable tool for treating genetic diseases. I actually met him once at a lecture at SMU when I was in high school and he was a great speaker.
However, as outlined in the NY Times article, he has said some things that make people like me cringe--that at some point in our evolution, god inserted a soul. Of course, no science can prove this. The nature of science is to answer how, when and what, but never why. Collins has said, however, “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”, which any scientist would agree with.
The question remains as to whether or not someone who is religious can ever be a truly good scientist. To say not would be as intolerant as the religious right is known to be. Logically, science and religion answer different questions (or different sides of similar questions), and a truly great scientist's work would never be swayed by their spiritual beliefs. Historically, this is almost never true. Lots of us hope that Collins is level-headed enough and will make a great director of the NIH, but part of us worries that NIH funding might change directions and support scientists who hold his religious beliefs. I personally don't think this will happen. I think he will end up doing a great job. Your thoughts?
One thing we can all agree on, though, is homeboy needs a new haircut. Do he and Bill Gates see the same barber? Damn!
Jimmy Carter, Fuck Yeah!
Jul 24, 2009, 9:36 am by Paul Stiverson
I happened across an article that I found interesting and I want to share it with you all.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States of America, has always been a man of extraordinary character. He recently decided to speak out in protest against the Southern Baptist Church for their passive mistreatment of women, saying the following:
At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
He is bravely making the connection between the global mistreatment of women to patriarchy within his own social circle. I, for one, am extremely glad to see somebody in the public eye that is willing to execute this necessary criticism; I am especially glad to see that it was executed by the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps his bravery will embolden others to say what needs to be said.
Religion in Iowa Schools
Jul 12, 2009, 2:38 am by Paul Stiverson
There has been a recent proposal in an Iowa school district proposing to allow prayer as an option in commencement exercises, it would also call for the creation of two new elective courses: “The Bible in History and Literature,” and “Critique of Darwinism, A Scientific Approach.” The proposal would also permit teachers to answer questions about their religious beliefs, as well as allowing students to distribute religious materials. The stated purpose of the proposal is to educate about religious faith, and to promote dialog. I cannot say that I am completely opposed to such a measure, if it were enacted it could actually benefit students by allowing for real and diverse religious expression. The proposal clearly states that “[The] School will not discriminate against private religious expression,” so if there are teachers of varying religious backgrounds then it could elucidate the fact that not everybody is a Christian, and it could give refuge to students who are exploring or questioning their own religious beliefs. The proposal would also allow distribution of dissenting literature thus allowing students to inform their classmates about other religions.
Some other folks have said that this proposal is a thinly veiled attempt at thrusting the Christian notion of god back at the fragile and impressionable minds of our youth, complaining that the district is not calling for the creation of any other “The [religious text] in History and Literature” classes. I do agree with them that the classes being added are somewhat one sided, but I don’t think that the critics have considered all aspects of the proposal. The proposal is very clear in its anti-discrimination verbiage, so—while there might not be any classes—there will be discussion of the spiritual alternatives to Christianity. If the proposal is intended as an endorsement of Christianity (I certainly believe this is the case), then it will backfire the first time a student hands out anti-Christian (or non pro-Christian) literature. Handing out this literature—or the refusal to allow it to be distributed—could spark a debate of a much larger scope than just the district. If this proposal is just an attempt to re-enroll god in Iowa schools (if it should pass) then it will quickly be found out and eradicated, but not without shining a national spotlight on how not-far we have come since Scopes. If the proposal’s intentions are true then it is a positive step.
I hope the proposal does pass, and I hope that there are non-Christians who are ready to walk through the flames—so to speak—to endorse their beliefs. If there are then the debate on religion in the public sphere might finally be coming to a head, and the public discourse on religion could get very interesting in the next few months.
Feb 4, 2009, 5:39 pm by Paul Stiverson
Preface: this post was inspired by a pro-life facebook note that evolved into a discussion about contraceptive education in schools. This post can be considered an expansion on a previous post.
Anytime I find myself in a civil dialog concerning abortion and unplanned pregnancy I always bring up the inadequacy of sexual education in schools, and it is always a touchy subject. I believe that when it comes to education that you must never seek to hide or alter the truth from the student, to do so keeps the student ignorant, and ultimately destroys the students’ ability to form coherent and informed opinions. Needless to say I think that sex-ed—if it is to be taught in public schools—should include common contraceptives as well as the merits of abstinence.
I’m sure the careful reader is aware that the Holy Roman Catholic Church has—historically—taken a strong stance on the use of contraceptives: latex+penis=hell (although they are starting to come around). I can appreciate their views on the subject, they believe that when blocking the chance of conception the “marriage act” (Catholic for sex) is incomplete and amoral.1 This view doesn’t stop them from trying to prevent conception thought, oh no, they came up with a strategy for doing the marriage act without having kids and without bringing down the fire and brimstone. In order to not conceive you should practice natural family planning, to do it properly you should probably invest in a pocket calendar (for the record I have no problem with that being taught in schools, as long as condoms can get equal time).
Now, in the recent past there has been quite a hubub regarding teaching kids about condom use—preferring to rely on shame and fear to keep kids safe—because of this (religious) belief. It seems to me that writing a curriculum based on some religious docorine is a pretty clear violation of the separation of church and state. In order to get around that violation they changed their tune: contraceptive talk shouldn’t be allowed because their effectiveness is sub-optimal. Well sure, the effectiveness is debatable (99.98%2 isn't quite perfect), but even the worst condom is more effective than none at all, and couple it with an oral contraceptive and the effectiveness jumps significantly. Who’s keeping track. If we want to restrict sex-ed talks to methods that are 100% effective then why don’t we teach our kids about anal sex? Probably because the church thinks it is icky.3
The time to start giving teens accurate, reliable, and unbiased information about their sexual health is now. To be completely honest though, I don’t think it should be the schools’ job, it is time for parents to step up to the plate and teach their children well.4 If it is to be taught in (public) schools then there should be no pretense regarding the morality of sex, keep it simple and give them the facts. Leave the sermons to the priests.
- I’m deriving this from the document Morals and Marriage, Part IV Morality of Intercourse, from a section titled “Purity implies sex”. Not a bad read, check it out if you’ve got some time to kill.
- Hatcher RA et al. Contraceptive Technology, 18th rev. ed. New York: Ardent Media, 2004.
- For the record, it is icky. That whole section on anal sex is a joke (a reference to a great site technicalvirgin.com, which has sadly been removed), lighten up zealots.
- [Crosby, Stills, and Nash joke here]
Dec 25, 2008, 10:46 pm by Lew
Merry Holiday all you good boys and girls that matter.
Dec 19, 2008, 4:52 pm by Paul Stiverson
I’ve considered myself a non-theist (or maybe an atheist) for quite some time now, but I was raised Christian. I had never explored the reasons why I fell from the fold until recently when I was asked seriously (by somebody who I felt deserved an honest response). There are a slew of bullshit reasons that I can give: atrocities performed in the name of Christ, my personal inability to commit to something of that magnitude, my general skepticism, the hive-mind mindset that allows injustices (and ignorance in the sciences) to be perpetuated, the fast and loose (mis)interpretation of scripture which permits the aforementioned injustices to come into existence. I could cite the passing of my father during my childhood, and bitch about the apparent lack of justice and equity in the world as evidence of the lack of a grand creator. I could note that to be a scientist you have to have an open mind—free of preconceived notions of an unseen and unmeasurable force driving the universe. I could say that I’ve never been touched by the hand of god, as so many Christians claim to have experienced. I could point to some mal-developed part of my brain that deals with the spiritual, but all those reasons are flimsy and unimportant. Ultimately I don’t think I have a legitimate reason, I am who I am.
When people discover that I’m not Christian (at least here in College Station) there is often a palpable shift in their body language, as if—since I’m not in their club—I’m suddenly an immoral person. It has always bothered me that religious folks associate morality with religion, as if god is the only thing that can stop a person from acting out all of their wildest impulses. As if god stops you from being pure id. The only thing god provides—in the arena of self-control, and in my experience—is a place to put all the regret you feel for doing whatever bad things you do, he lets you cop out of your sins, he forgives you so you can forgive yourself. The beautiful thing about not believing in god is that you have to be responsible for yourself and your actions. I don’t have the luxury of asking anybody for forgiveness other than the person I may have wronged, the regret for past transgressions has nowhere to go but toward stopping me from repeating my mistakes.
All that being said, I do think that religious teachings have a place, the Bible is an excellent document for teaching people how to live well. It tells you not to be a bastard, and illustrates past bastards who were punished for their bastardy ways. The rub is that people don’t just take away the lessons, they get all manner of byproducts that end up diluting the important lessons. Jesus’ teachings are absolutely right on, he told his followers that they needed to go further than not being bad, but indeed, to be good. Love you neighbor, don’t judge people, and that the wonder of life doesn’t reside in the material. These teachings should not be neglected, they should be celebrated and followed in their purest form. The circumstances of his life (and the afterlife in general) are insignificant compared to his words, and you don’t have to believe that Jesus was the messiah (or the son of the messiah, or anything else special)—or even believe that he actually existed—to benefit from the quality of the teachings.
I don't normally tackle the divine, but here I go anyway
Oct 7, 2008, 11:12 pm by Lew
Something just made me a little sad. Intelligent Design is making me a little sad. Not the idea itself but the existence of it. Intelligent Design is another name for creationism. If you believe in creationism that is your faith. Calling it intelligent design is trying to use scientific logic to justify your faith. If you have faith I think it is sad to feel you need science to justify it. That to me is what it sad. To me that is a lack of faith.
John Steinbeck is what got me thinking about this. In a few paragraphs in “Log from the Sea of Cortez” he discusses how people react to ideas that they hate. He argues that the best reaction to a new idea is to study it for complete comprehension and only then giving your views of the strengths and faults of the ideas. When someone hates an idea, they do not try to understand, they try to destroy it. This made me think about the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. 5 minutes ago I would have said I hate the idea of intelligent design. But then I tried to understand why intelligent design is out there in the first place. I do not think anyone actually loves the idea in and of itself. It is obviously a way to try to work creationism into the domain of science. It is a reaction by people of faith to the theory of evolution. If you are a person of faith you shouldn’t be scared of biological theories. If you think god is almighty and unfathomable why be scared of science? Yet enough people of faith are scared that they make a public issue out of scientific fact. They realized they cannot fight evidence based logic with faith based beliefs. So they have dressed up genesis with science. The testaments don’t command you to accrue the evidence necessary to prove the divine. The bible asks for faith. If you have faith, then have faith.
Jun 7, 2008, 8:40 pm by Paul Stiverson
The absurdity of facebook advertisements has reached astounding levels. I present the figure at right, which purports that I can meet “Hot Christian Singles” which is not (necessarily) a ridiculous notion, I’ve usually found Christian girls to be agreeable. What really stands out about this particular advertisement is the model they chose to represent the Christian single that I can supposedly meet, now I’m not claiming that this particular gal isn’t a Christian, she may very well be quite pure and pious. I’m not sure if it is the 6 months worth of tanning to achieve that level of bronze, the enormous (presumably fake) breasts, or her particular method of displaying said breasts, but she doesn’t strike me as the paradigm case of a Christian girl. Far be it from me to say that a Christian must look a certain way, but seriously, there is a limit to the level of vanity that should be displayed by the little Christs among us.
The next question has nothing to do with the picture. If you are claiming to be a Christian male shouldn’t you be seeking to look past the physical appearance of your potential lovers in order to forge a meaningful and spiritual relationship? It seems to me that looking exclusively for the “Hot” is more than a little sacrilegious.
What would Jesus do?
Good Christian Raisin
Jun 16, 2007, 3:05 am by Paul Stiverson
Some of you may be familiar with a song called “Georgia on a Fast Train” by Billy Joe Shaver, well in the chorus of the song Billy says:
I’ve been to Georgia on a fast train honey
I wudn’t born no yesterday
Got a good Christian raisin’ and an eighth grade education
Ain’t no need in y’all a treatin’ me this way
Every time I hear that third line I can’t stop my mind from picturing a good Christian raisin. I drew that last night at the bar so I could get that visual stuck in their heads too.