Oh, Billo

I wasn’t surprised when I starting seeing around the Interwebs that Bill O’Reilly, in an interview with David Silverman of American Atheists and meme fame, claimed that Christianity was a philosophy rather than a religion. What did surprise me, however, was that he was so adamant in the claim. I had figured he just said yet another stupid thing in passing, but that wasn’t the case. He really meant it. Check out the video.

Billo goes on to call atheists fascists for having objections to government-endorsed religious icons, symbology, and content. That, of course, was quite silly. I think Silverman held his own quite well, not letting Billo push him around. I do, however, think he had two points of falter. First, he said atheism was a philosophy. It isn’t. It is highly compatible with certain philosophies, such as humanism, but it is not itself a philosophy. It can’t be. It’s descriptive. Second, he said he would be forced to take Christmas off because it’s a federally mandated holiday. I think what he meant was that federal employees and those who work in certain other areas of the economy would be forced to take the day off, being prevented from conducting business as usual at the post office, city hall, etc. This was a small trip due to a lack of specificity. Overall, I think he did very well.

All that said, I do happen to be okay with Christmas’ status as a federal holiday. Past court rulings have provided a legitimate basis for why this is not an endorsement of religion: The day has been sufficiently secularized. Between the commercialism and routine traditions such as vacation time (and maybe even watching A Christmas Story), the day is not about Christianity as far as the government is concerned. Perhaps 100 years ago a different ruling would have been in order (though, given the cultural context, unlikely), but such a reaction is no longer needed today.

But then, what do I know? I’m just a fascist.

Thought of the day

I’m not sure which was more disturbing: the defense of Rush Limbaugh saying that women who have ‘too much’ sex are sluts or the promotion of the lie that the President ever said business owners didn’t build their own businesses.

Do Republicans even like Jesus?

I mean, I know that most people who become Republicans do so because they’re already Christians, but it seems like there’s a lot of disconnect in certain areas.

Thought of the day

What organized religion accomplished in 6,000 years was wildly surpassed after just a portion of the past few hundred years of serious science.

Cornelius Hunter struggles to understand convergent evolution

I was hunting around for some blogging ideas recently when I came across this post by Wintery Knight. It’s basically a copy and paste job because Mr. Knight is not qualified to speak of anything in biology (and he has amply demonstrated as much). However, the person he extensively quotes, Cornelius Hunter, is also 100% unqualified to analyze the world of biology. I’ve written about Hunter in the past.

As in his last post that just barely merited a response on FTSOS, Hunter makes a series of confused remarks about convergent evolution. (For those who don’t know – such as Hunter – convergent evolution is the process by which species of usually distant relatedness will acquire the same trait independent of their last common ancestor.) Let’s take a look at how Hunter mangles this:

The theory of evolution states that the species arose spontaneously, one from another via a pattern of common descent. This means the species should form an evolutionary tree, where species that share a recent common ancestor, such as two frog species, are highly similar, and species that share a distant common ancestor, such as humans and squids, are very different. But the species do not form such an evolutionary tree pattern. In fact this expectation has been violated so many times it is difficult to keep track. These violations are not rare or occasional anomalies, they are the rule.

Hunter is only leading into his mention of convergence here, but he’s already off to an embarrassing start. He’s attempting to claim that we don’t see an expected pattern of descent because that pattern is premised on the idea that similar traits must come from closely related organisms. He is factually incorrect. All he has described here is one method for determining relatedness between species: morphology. And even then, he has grossly over-simplified the process. For instance, take the skull of a dingo versus the skull of a Tasmanian tiger. They resemble each other quite closely, but they aren’t exactly the same. The latter has two holes in the roof of its mouth, a characteristic of marsupials. Go further and one will see that they also have different genetic codings.

Many examples are the repeated designs found in what, according to evolution, must be very distant species. Such evolutionary convergence is biology’s version of lightning striking twice. To explain this evolutionists must say that random mutations just happened to hit upon the same detailed, intricate design at different times, in different parts of the world, in different ecological niches, and so forth.

Were Hunter to take a peak at the genes in a Euphorbia, he might notice that they are markedly different from the genes in a cactus. That’s because, while both plants are prickly desert survivors, one is from the Malpighiales order whereas the other is from the Caryophyllales order. They have significantly different genotypes, but similar phenotypes. In other words, Hunter’s argument that random mutations are always hitting “upon the same detailed, intricate designs at different times, in different parts of the world, in different ecological niches” is not only verbose, but entirely wrong. It would be as though he said home builders have hit upon the same intricate design because some use cellulose insulation while others use spray foam. It’s the same result by a different means.

Everyone has heard of the kangaroo and its pouch. It is a marsupial—mammals that give birth at a relatively early stage in development, and then carry their young in a pouch. There are a great variety of marsupials that are curiously similar to a cousin placental species. The flying squirrel (a placental) and the flying phalanger (a marsupial) are one such example. Because of their reproductive differences evolutionists must say they are distantly related on the evolutionary tree. Yet they have strikingly similar designs which must have been created independently by random mutations. Every mutation leading to the two different species must, according to evolution, have been random (that is, independent of any need). No, natural selection doesn’t help.

First, his mutation argument is still wrong. Second, it isn’t merely reproductive differences that tell us the flying squirrels (which are two independent groups of rodents) are different from the flying phalanger. There is also evidence from their genetic relatedness, not to mention the obvious fact that one is placental and the other a marsupial. Third, of course natural selection is relevant here. That’s the whole reason two species are able to converge on the same solution to similar problems; natural selection has found an efficient solution to one problem faced by two species.

Though evolutionists sometimes deny biological convergence, it is a scientific fact.

I don’t know what Hunter is talking about, but that’s okay because I don’t think he does either.

He goes on to quote from a recent paper:

In mammals, hearing is dependent on three canonical processing stages: (i) an eardrum collecting sound, (ii) a middle ear impedance converter, and (iii) a cochlear frequency analyzer. Here, we show that some insects, such as rainforest katydids, possess equivalent biophysical mechanisms for auditory processing…

Thus, two phylogenetically remote organisms, katydids and mammals, have evolved a series of convergent solutions to common biophysical problems, despite their reliance on very different morphological substrates.

Now, remember the crux of Hunter’s opening: Similar morphology is the same thing as intricate design, thus Jesus. Yet here we see a “reliance on very different morphological substrates”. That is, natural selection in some insects has hit upon the same broad method for attaining hearing as it has in mammals, but it goes about the process in a largely different way, relying upon the insect phenotype it has already given itself. So not only is Hunter’s argument wrong from the get-go, but even if we’re generous and grant him his incorrect basis, he still gets blown out of the water. He has managed to somehow be wrong in his wrongness.

It’s one thing when someone branches into biology from time to time, relying upon the insight of others. We see that with Wintery Knight (the reason being that he hasn’t a clue about the field). We can’t expect everyone to be an expert, even if they should know better. However, Cornelius Hunter is another story. This is a guy who fancies himself qualified and reasoned, able to break down complex scientific ideas. Yet what we see is a man unable to even come remotely close to getting much of anything right about a relatively simple idea. And he keeps trying, getting things wrong every. single. time.

That’s not your money

It’s often a conservative rallying cry to say “I want my money back!” or something along those lines when talking about taxes. They believe that what the government takes throughout the year and especially April 15 belongs to them at all times, not merely while it sits in their pockets.

This is a false belief.

What the government takes in taxes belongs to the government, bar any bookkeeping errors. To claim otherwise is tantamount to claiming that the government has stolen money. I’m sure there are plenty of ignorant people out there willing to say as much, but I think that vast majority of citizens are intelligent enough to recognize that Uncle Sam isn’t robbing them, even if they do disagree with certain tax and spending policies.

The truth is, the moment money leaves a person’s bank account to head off to government coffers is the moment that money ceases to belong to that person. It is at the point that it belongs to the government. Fortunately, the government is of, by, for, along, about, concerning, since and perhaps a few other prepositions related to the people. That means that even though the money no longer belongs to any particular individual, it does belong to all citizens. What we collectively decide to do with it – which may include giving it to individual people – is up to us and those we elect to represent us. It isn’t up to John Smith or Suzie Q how the government allocates his or her specific portion of taxes – it’s up to all of us because it belongs to all of us.

So the fact is, the government can’t give you your money back. Once it taxes you, all it can do is give you some of the money that belongs to all of us (which may, as it so happens, match what you put into the system). That’s why we don’t jail politicians and IRS agents every time a new tax policy is put in place. Uncle Sam is not stealing from you.

Camp Sunshine

One of the things we’re doing with Atheists of Maine is a fundraiser and subsequent polar dip for Camp Sunshine. Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist wrote about us:

The Atheists of Maine are trying to raise money for a truly worthy cause: Camp Sunshine, “a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.”

Right now, the atheists are the top fundraising group for the cause, but there’s a long way to go for the camp to raise the $30,000 it needs. So if you have the ability to help out, please donate to group members Ryan Dalessandro or Michael Hawkins.

There are other group members, but I think it’s clear that anyone who wants to donate should donate to my page specifically. Why? Because this is my blog, that’s why.

We’re ultimately hoping to find a church group to compete with us for position of top donor, so if any Maine-based group is interested, let us know.