A special cosmic status for humans and evolution still can’t be married – even if you think atheism is totes cringe

It seemed like there was a brief window where it was okay to get into debates about religion, God, and gods. Those who didn’t care just didn’t care, and those who did care were likely participants in the debates. Maybe this is just a reflection of the fact that I was a frequent participant during this window – perhaps 2003 to 2014 – and so I lacked an outsider’s perspective. Whatever the case, the anti-atheist memes have established a firm foothold in society: Those who argue God doesn’t exist are intellectual circle-jerkers with fedoras, and they should just let the religious live in peace; whatever clashes religious belief has with society at-large should be resolved without attacking the religious beliefs themselves. I suspect it really is the nature of memes that have led to this general view, but I also wonder if part of the reason has to do with the logical extension of common atheist arguments from that window. Specifically, we used to see a push for young Earth creationism in schools and textbooks, often hidden behind the disingenuous argument for ‘intelligent design’. Plenty of people, atheists and theists alike, could get on board with attacking those pushes, and even if the atheistic arguments took swings at all forms of creationism, such arguments weren’t really the focus. It’s easy to support ‘Keep religion out of public schools’ regardless of one’s more cosmic beliefs, but when was the last time that was a pressing issue? Bills occasionally pop up, but they’re usually defeated quickly. There’s no point in allying any longer.

I don’t know. That’s probably a stretch. Maybe we can point to the deep rifts in those on the left. One faction wants to get Woke with everything while the other side has stayed focused on the philosophy. (Which, as we all know, makes that other side a bunch of Nazis.) Unfortunately for the Woke, it isn’t honest to be an anti-theist when it comes to Christianity but not Islam or other religions. On the plus side for this group, however, is their utter control over Big Tech. Attacks on Christianity as an institution appear to still be allowed, but the fedora memes folder pops open once the underlying issue of faith is mentioned. We must be careful not to ensnare any (locally) non-dominant group in our criticisms.

Or perhaps it comes down to the fact that people have lost interest in organized religion while organized religions have, non-coincidentally, lost influence, all while people still profess a belief in a higher power. An attack on young Earth creationism may still be seen in a positive light because, well, dinosaurs and humans didn’t exist side-by-side, but an attack on the very idea of an almighty creator isn’t going to fly amongst those who hold such a belief.

Whatever the case, one should not be fooled into thinking arguments against a higher power that cares for humanity have faltered. What was true 10 years ago is true today, even if someone tweets out a totes fire ‘m’lady atheist’ meme. Creationism – whether young or old, whether specific or (intentionally) vague – cannot be married to evolution without a bunch of hand-waving and shoulder-shrugging.

Fundamentally, evolution has no intention, no goals, no predetermined outcomes. It may have statistically likely, frequent, common, and not-so-unusual outcomes (such as the eye or the stability given by 4 legs), but any re-run of the tape of life will yield different results. We’ve seen this in specific experiments (see Richard Lenski), but it is also plainly obvious. The exact genetic makeup of an offspring could be changed for thousands of reasons in any hypothetical re-run. From environmental factors to a chance mutation to two sexually-viable individuals having sex earlier or later to spontaneous abortion, a re-run of evolution will always produce extremely different results over time. Just imagine the asteroid that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs missed Earth or burned up or perhaps fully hit water. If dinosaurs never die off, mammals likely never rise. And if they do, it happens in a wildly different world that will put different pressures on natural selection. In short, no species is inevitable. Any belief that says otherwise is in conflict with evolutionary theory.

Now examine any form of creationism. They *all* declare that humans have some special cosmic status; they *all* say there is a creator who has seen fit to bring humans into existence. Yet the random chance of mutations make that impossible. The stochastic nature of natural selection tells us it can’t be true. It simply isn’t possible to believe in an intention-based view like creationism while also accepting a scientific theory that specifically lacks intention.

But we needn’t stop there. Let’s ask the creationist *exactly* when it was that the special status of humans began. That is, who was the first individual to be born with a soul?

(Apologies for the divided paragraph, but this is a necessary caveat: Of course, my question isn’t meant to be literal. Moreover, the word ‘soul’ is meant to encompass however one wishes to define ‘special status’. I say both of these things because 1) I’m interested in the very *idea* of what gives a special status to someone but not their parents and 2) the second words like ‘soul’ get introduced, the believer in an intentional higher power will start to play semantics.)

If humans have some special status in the Universe while other living things don’t, then there must have been a point where a mother gave birth to one or more offspring that were special in the eyes of a creator. This is important because evolution is continuum. A mother of one species doesn’t give birth to offspring of another species. With the grace of hundreds of thousands of years, we can say ‘This fossil belongs to this species, but this one belongs to a different species’, but that isn’t how it works on a generational scale. So the creationist is forced to reckon with how it is that a mother failed to achieve special human status while her offspring was give such an honor. Moving the line back and saying that, perhaps, all Great Apes have this special status briefly answers the matter, but, ultimately, our evolutionary tree is going to meet up with a common ancestor with other species. And then others. And others. And, eventually, the creationist will have to say that all living things hold some special status with a creator – a status we conventionally refer to as ‘having a soul’. But why stop there. What of the first primordial replicators? Or is DNA the specific factor needed for cosmic importance?

Now pause. Reflect on how *utterly ridiculous* those mental gymnastics are. Any effort to marry creationism and evolution requires such an exertion, yet we have a perfectly valid path which avoids all of that: Don’t be a creationist. Simply accept evolution for what it is. Accept that humans were never destined to exist. Accept that it isn’t possible to say, ‘Humanity began with this birth’. Accept that the idea of human importance – something which is fundamental to any form of creationism – cannot be married to evolutionary theory.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

To the right is one picture out of a series that was taken after the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate the other night. Creationist question Creationists were asked to write questions that they would like to ask of Nye. (I’d link the whole series, but it came from BuzzFeed. I already feel dirty enough having clicked the link myself.)

To answer the man’s question, the second law of thermodynamics does not disprove evolution. The second law states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases. That is, things because less orderly and more chaotic over time without an input of energy from an outside source. Since the Universe is an isolated system as near as we can tell, all the organization we see will eventually dissipate – no more stars or planets or black holes or anything else that uses energy. Eventually even all atoms will cease to move.

Creationists believe this fact of the Universe applies to evolution because they view evolution as greater and greater organization over time, and that requires an input of energy. They’re right so far. Where they fail is in their belief that greater and greater organization is not possible over time. As best as any rational person can tell, creationists appear to believe Earth is a closed system and that with enough time it should all fall away. Except it isn’t closed. That big yellow ball in the sky has a tendency to provide us with more energy than we know what to do with. (Not that we’ve been the best at harnessing it.)

Of course, we don’t need to even go as far as the Sun – at least so long as we aren’t talking about plants or photosynthesizing bacteria. We take in energy all the time. It ultimately comes from the Sun and, to an extent, Earth’s core and magnetic field, but on a day-to-day level, we don’t exist in a closed system at all. A dinosaur that killed another dinosaur had a source of energy to take in: the dead dino. An early hunter-gatherer would find energy by hunting and gathering. And right now I’m about to go find some energy in a hot chai tea.

No, that’s a bad Oklahoma! Bad Oklahoma!

Looks like there’s another creationist bill in another red state:

Oklahoma’s most recent creationism measure has made it over its latest hurdle.

The Oklahoma Common Education committee passed the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act Tuesday in a close 9-8 vote, Mother Jones reports.

Introduced by Republican state Rep. Gus Blackwell, the legislation would “permit teachers, schools, and students to explore alternative theories without repercussions,” the Week columnist Dana Liebelson writes.

“Without repercussions”? Come, come now. This bill is about science denialism across the board, including of global warming, cloning, and especially evolution. A person cannot grow up in the 21st century and expect to be proficient in an ever more complex world when our schools are forcing scientific illiteracy on them. Just look at what one of the sponsors of the bill said:

While creationism bills have often been linked to religion, Blackwell insists that the legislation’s focus is scientific exploration.

“I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” Blackwell explained to Mother Jones. “A student has the freedom to write a paper that points out that highly complex life may not be explained by chance mutations.”

Highly complex life – indeed, all of life – is explained not merely by chance, nor merely mutations. There are a whole host of mechanisms which contribute to life’s erratic march, such as genetic drift and, of course, natural selection. (I say “erratic march” because, as Stephen Jay Gould noted, life does not evolve towards complexity, but rather diversity.) We cannot expect students to write coherent papers on this matter when there are people in charge like Blackwell who have obviously never even considered biology at this level.

Hopefully this bill will die just like a similar one did last year, but who knows. The power of the stupid-lobby remains as strong as ever.

Good on you, Bill Nye. Good on you.

Bill Nye recently had this to say:

“I say to the grownups, ‘If you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we’ve observed in the universe that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it,'” said Nye, best known as host of the educational TV series “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”…

“When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in (evolution) it holds everybody back, really,” he said….

Nye said that while many adults may believe in creationism, children should be taught evolution in order to understand science. Absent a grasp of evolution, he said, “You’re just not going to get the right answers.” And he called evolution the “fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology.”

Teaching children the building blocks of science is essential for the country’s future, he added, saying, “We need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

Here is the video:

Dissent on feminism is not like dissent on evolution

One of the popular memes out there in the feminist blogosphere is to compare a person who disagrees with a feminist position to a creationist who disagrees with all of evolution. There are two problems with this.

First, there is a general attitude amongst caricature/Internet feminists that if a person dares disagree on even a single feminist point, that person must be a rape culture apologist who just wants to rape. Also, rape. And elevator rape. Rape. Rape. Rapey rape. Rapedy rapedy rape rape rape. That, of course, makes no sense, especially in the context of comparing dissent on feminism to dissent on evolution by creationists. A person who disagrees with one or even a few parts of feminism is not like a creationist because a creationist rejects virtually every bit of science discovered since Darwin. (If we get more specific and go with young Earth creationists, we can include every bit of science since the beginning of the Enlightenment.) A person who disagrees with some part of feminism does not think women are second-class citizens by default, nor does such a person necessarily reject other parts feminism. More importantly, such a person does not necessarily reject the basic idea of equality. This is unlike the creationist who can only reject evolution by rejecting vast swaths of science.

Second, feminism is – at best – a philosophy. It is not science. It is not fact. It isn’t any more provable than anything Kant ever said about the good being found in good will itself. That isn’t to say it isn’t useful, but it is not some established, objective observation of the world. (I have to include that last line because omitting it means I think feminism is nothing but garbage and rape is awesome.) Evolution, on the other hand, is science. It is fact. It is an established, objective observation of the world. To express dissent to it is to express an ignorance that can be countered with objective facts and education. Feminism does not enjoy that same, dare I say, privilege. If it did, then so would egalitarianism. Or any other philosophy. It would be an inherent contradiction: Philosophy is a subjective interpretation of the world, so to say it can be objectively true makes no sense. It certainly uses facts and the latest knowledge of the world to support and build its propositions, but from that use ultimately comes non-scientific, subjective interpretations. Moreover, virtually all philosophies make or are developed for the purpose of making normative claims. That is, they make value claims. The subjectivity is unavoidable.

The only reason this ‘feminist dissent is like evolution dissent’ meme is popular is because cheap rhetoric is so easy. The two topics enjoy a cross section that would be the link on a Venn diagram labeled “liberal/progressive”. By attempting to appeal to what much of that link already accepts – evolution – the feminist side of the aisle is attempting to invent a shameful comparison: ‘Why, you’re just like a creationist! Don’t you feel silly now?’ It’s hardly any different from the argument that atheism is a religion. (Oh, hey, look. Many feminists share my position that there is no God and that religion is bad, so I know a lot of them have been accused of having a religion. I also know that that accusation is annoying, so no one in her right mind would want to make it herself. Yet here we are, with feminists making just that sort of argument. I have exploited my own Venn diagram link. Isn’t lazy rhetoric fun?)

One fact to refute creationism

Sometimes I pity the religious for not having a person as intelligent as Richard Dawkins on their side:

Well, isn’t Indiana just silly

A bunch of kooks in the Indiana state senate have decided to go ahead and try to bring an expensive lawsuit to their doorstep:

On January 31, 2012, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 in favor of Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 provided, “The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.” On January 30, 2012, however, it was amended in the Senate to provide instead, “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

In other words, these people recognize the fact of evolution – that fact that is supported so thoroughly, overwhelmingly, and wonderfully – is in direct conflict with their religious dogma, so instead of adjusting to the evidence, they want to ignore it, even promoting ideas that are blatantly false. It’s a good thing it is so well established that they cannot use government to do this. Not that bill sponsor Dennis Kruse knows this:

Kruse acknowledged that the bill would be constitutionally problematic but, he told the education blogger at the Indianapolis Star (January 31, 2012), “This is a different Supreme Court,” adding, “This Supreme Court could rule differently.”

It’s true that there is a reckless disregard for the constitution amongst some of the justices and political figures on the Supreme Court, but with the possible exception of worst-court-members-in-history Scalia and Thomas, no one is going to uphold the teaching of creationism in public schools. Kruse doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

If these religious zealots are so anxious to promote their doctrines and dogmas, then they can do so through dispassionate courses such as comparative religion and philosophy. That would enable them to spread their views without actively promoting them; it is active promotion that is the problem here. Of course, students will also have to deal with competing ideas, something which is antithetical to religious thought, but it’s the best that these kooks are constitutionally allowed to do with public funds – thank goodness.

Anti-evolution legislation in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has been disappointing as of late. Here and there I’ve been hearing rumblings of Republicans gearing up to destroy the lives of Granite State gays. Then they put money in the pockets of naturopaths at the expense of the health of their citizens. And now a number of schmucks are getting ready to put forth some anti-science bills:

House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to “[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.” House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to “[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

Bergevin pulls out what has got to be the most basic creationist canard by implying that a theory is somehow not scientifically sound or established. He’s wrong. See Theory of Gravity for further reference. But as if blatant ignorance wasn’t enough, he then goes and commits a logical fallacy by demanding, in poorly veiled code, that teachers make ad hominem attacks on scientists. It would be risible if it wasn’t so pitiable and contemptible and insensible all at the same time.

Hopper and Burt don’t fair much better. They use the broad concept that accepted science changes with the evidence, but they do so in an obviously sneaky, if superficially acceptable, way. Fortunately they slipped up and showed their hand early:

Although HB 1457 as drafted is silent about “intelligent design,” Hopper’s initial request was to have a bill drafted that would require “instruction in intelligent design in the public schools.”

Surprise, surprise. I guess they must have read Kitzmiller v. Dover after their first draft.

I remember Maine had a very brief flair up a few years ago when some administrator out in East Bumfuck made similar suggestions concerning the teaching of evolution. He quickly learned the value of shutting up in the face of overwhelming evidence he just didn’t understand, but it was still disappointing that the moment wasn’t captured more fruitfully by journalists; no one in the media took the time to pen a short article on why evolution is true and why the administrator was wrong. It wouldn’t have needed to be some in-depth piece, but just something that explained some of the basics (starting with what a theory is since that was at the heart of the issue here). Hell, I’m sure any paper could have gotten an actual biologist to write something for them in under an hour.

I just hope New Hampshire does at least a little bit better than Maine did.

Hitler and creationism

Associating something with Hitler does not make that something wrong. Most believers won’t preface their (incorrect) associations of Hitler and evolution with that statement; it’s basic, bald dishonesty.

That said, Hitler was a creationist. In Mein Kampf, he said this:

Walking about in the garden of Nature, most men have the self-conceit to think that they know everything; yet almost all are blind to one of the outstanding principles that Nature employs in her work. This principle may be called the inner isolation which characterizes each and every living species on this earth.

Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show that all the innumerable forms in which the life-urge of Nature manifests itself are subject to a fundamental law–one may call it an iron law of Nature – which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind.

It is obvious that, yes, Hitler believed that species did not evolve. So what about the Nazi utilization of eugenics? Well, I’m glad you asked such an easy question.

Hitler believed Aryans were inherently superior to everyone else. This is practically identical to the beliefs of most white people (in regard to whites) prior to Darwin. That is, people have long believed their own race to be superior to other races. But Hitler also believed that breeding Aryans with each other would increase Aryan characteristics throughout the population. This wasn’t some idea that depended upon evolutionary theory. People knew for thousands of years that they could produce certain traits within animals by creating breeding programs. Besides that, they obviously recognized that their own children would inherit features from their parents. Hitler extended this common knowledge to Aryans. It had no basis in evolution. Anyone who says otherwise is either woefully ignorant or an unabashed liar.

But how is this different from the position of modern day creationists? Hitler believed traits could be passed on and come to dominate a population. At no point does this have anything to do with speciation from his perspective – nor from the perspective of creationists. This is the so-called “microevolution” that is consistent with the silly creationist view. Hitler did not merely hold it – he embraced it.

Of course, it was not that he was embracing creationism itself. Don’t get me wrong – he did embrace creationism and he was a self-proclaimed creationist many decades before his rise to power – but it was not creationism itself he was embracing. He was using every day intuition about how reproduction works. These ideas stretch back formally at least 2400 years, and probably much further informally in terms of what early humans could observe as obvious. It was day-to-day ideas Hitler was utilizing in his quest for raising the German “superman”. Those ideas really had nothing to do with evolutionary theory, and even if they did, Hitler did not accept that species evolved anyway.

Pathetic, America

This is just more confirmation of the general superiority of Canada to America.

via Why Evolution Is True.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Canadians apparently beat us in another department as well…