Saturday, May 07, 2005

Inherit The Windbags: A Scientific Fisking

It appears that in the latest of ongoing struggles the Kansas State Board of Education is having with reality, evolution proponents have decided to jujitsu the mouth-breathers altogether:

Hoping to avoid a bitter public showdown, defenders of evolutionary theory were having little to do this week with hearings over the science curriculum in Kansas, where members of the state Board of Education critical of the standard theory are considering changes to give more weight to creationist ideas.

Advocates of a philosophy called “intelligent design” and critics of evolution joined flocks of reporters and cameras in Topeka, where the hearings entered their third day Saturday.

But mainstream science organizations spurned invitations to participate, dismissing the hearings as an effort “to attack and undermine science,” in the view of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science.

As a result, the only witnesses being heard were advocates of intelligent design or critics of evolution. Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka lawyer representing what he called mainstream science, dismissed the event as a “kangaroo court.”

It will be interesting to see if the tactics employed by the mainstream science organizations actually work -- which requires that one first define "work". If your goal is to demonstrate to the rest of the world that you feel that your attendance might accidentally lend some credence and legitimacy to their idiocy, that goal may be achieved. If your goal is to make sure that snake-handling nonsense isn't taught to gullible schoolchildren in the guise of reputable empirical fact -- eh, not so much.

One problem rational people face, when dealing with fundamentally irrational people, is that they instantly assume that the argument requires a rational solution. Not only is this not necessarily so, it is quite frequently untrue. People who are already operating on a shithouse-rat-goofy level are not just going to come around because you dazzle them with logic and reason. They clearly have already abandoned logic and reason; those things do not serve their purpose, thus they do not understand how or desire to apply logic and reason to assess what rational humans might refer to as a "conundrum".

Nonetheless, a showdown is inevitable. Efforts to compel schools to teach or, at least, give equal time to the purported errors of evolution are under way in nearly two dozen states, led by two groups of activists united by their belief in a supreme being who set history in motion.

One group is made up of religious conservatives who espouse the traditional biblical account in which God created the world in six days. The Supreme Court, however, barred the teaching of creationism in a 1987 decision striking down a Louisiana law that said evolution could be taught only if “creation science” was also taught. So today, the movement has shifted to the campaign by intellectual thinkers, some of them scientists, who argue that life on the planet is too complex to have come about without some sort of guiding intelligence.

That supposition is called “intelligent design.” Its leaders say that as a matter of science their principles are not religious. But mainstream scientists have labeled them "creationism lite," and Christian activists have latched onto them as an alternative stick with which to whack Darwin.

I have read up a bit over the past year or so on "intelligent design". I have said this before, but it well bears repeating: Science class is about much more than just putting forth a theory, and forcing students to accept said theory as gospel. Science is all about inquiry, and methodology.

Intelligent design is just a glossed-over revision of creationism -- it completely predicates itself upon an assumption of a Greater Power. Whether or not this Greater Power actually exists is irrelevant, from a purely scientific angle. There's no way for scientific method or inquiry to benefit from the assertion of a Greater Power. None whatsoever.

The creationism idjits think that the exclusion of their superstition is a slap to their beliefs and their questions. It is not. It is just common sense. Obviously, if science has to include your creation myth, then it has to include everyone's creation myth. That's how we do shit here, and that is just an unconscionable clusterfuck of a rotten idea.

The crux of the problem, what these thick-headed knuckle-draggers can't seem to get through their alarmingly low foreheads, is really this: it is perfectly fine to ask Great Questions like, "How did we get here?", and "If God loves me, why did He let my puppy die when I was seven?", and "What are these painful, warty polyps on the shaft of my penis?". People can and should ask those questions to their little hearts' content.

Just don't ask them in science class (except for that last question), because they're a waste of everyone's time. It's not a scientist's job to answer those metaphysical questions; that's the job of a theologian. Is that plain enough for you, you fucking morons? Quit wasting everyone's time and money with your stupid bullshit and go back to marrying your cousins, if you're not going to read something other than the latest Left Behind bumwipe and learn how the world actually works.

The primary mistake being made here is the ongoing well-meaning, but misguided, attempts to present all this as just another way of viewing the world. Well, duh, that's exactly what it is, and again, that's perfectly fine. What it is not, and never will be, is science. Why the fuck is this so hard for otherwise sensible people to understand?

Anderson and his wife, Doris, are the founders of the Mount St. Helens Creation Information Center and curators of the 7 Wonders Creation Museum. They represent a third wave of modern biblical creationist thinking, one that says hard-core science proves the Genesis account of creation.

Mainstream scientists say that because it can sound plausible to non-specialists, it could be a particularly formidable threat to public acceptance of Darwinian evolution as it has been taught for more than a century, which Americans already reject by a ratio of almost 2-to-1, an NBC News poll found in March.

In the early part of the 20th century, believers in biblical creation rested their assurance purely on the Bible. It says God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, so it must be so. Nearly half of Americans, 44 percent, still believe that, the poll found.

This is a scary statistic, if true. There's no other way to put this -- any society that is this much at odds with empirical reality is clearly being kept aloft for only so long. At a certain point, our enormous mass will fall prey to this cultural inertia, and we will fall -- hard.

But that still didn’t explain where the Earth came from in the first place. The delicate balance of climatic, geologic and physical conditions that led to life on Earth couldn’t have happened by chance, they said. It all had to be set in motion by a greater intelligence.

This may be the most pernicious part of what is indeed a tremendous scam. First of all, the evidence at hand supports the exact opposite of what these idiots assert. The geologic record shows that, based upon the age and tumultuous physical history of the planet, it literally took hundreds of millions -- indeed, billions -- of years to get all these complex conditions just right, so that current forms of life could be supported. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that any of this was set in motion deliberately at all. One could more logically make the argument that climatic and geologic conditions have been wrong for much greater periods of time than they've been right for life to flourish.

This is a very important facet of what science empirically demonstrates, over and over and over again: the earth and the universe are all in a constant state of flux. Conditions refine or degrade in an impossibly complex and intertwined sequence of interrelated events and pre-existing factors. Any competent scientist will readily admit that the surface has hardly been scratched, much less comprehended.

Only a complete jackass would take all that to mean that the earth was created in six days by a vengeful, spiteful humanoid sky-god. Only a fool would think that Levantine tribesmen from several millenia ago somehow knew and understood more about the physical universe and the laws of nature than modern man does.

And they know all this damned well. The purpose here has never been to seriously contest the validity of scientific inquiry; they know they can't. It's the usual end-run around common sense and logical reasoning, because they just won't be happy until we all believe the same brand of mumbo-jumbo they do.

Well, you know what? It's not going to happen, folks. Ever. You cannot win this battle, and even if you somehow maintained a political plurality, it would surely doom the nation. It would almost instantly usher the US away from a burgeoning technocracy, and back to an agrarian, culturally stultified oligarchy. Indeed, we may be already on our way back there; we just don't feel the rising heat of the water we're steeping in.

Creation theory has always driven mainstream scientists nuts. But scientific young-Earth creationism is a special case. Geologists insist that it is just as wrongheaded as old-school blind-faith creationism, but they do so with a touch of grudging respect.

“The 7 Wonders Creation Museum is an example of the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ of the young-Earth creationist movement,” Wilfred Elders, an emeritus professor of geology at the University of California-Riverside, said in an e-mail message. “It is good in that it actually reports geological observations. It is bad because it ignores the scientific method in interpreting them.”

Elders, a former chairman of the Education Committee of the Geothermal Resources Council of the U.S.A., said young-Earth creationists make a fundamental error: They start with their conclusion — that God created the Earth in six days — and then look for the proof. Scientists, on the other hand, “observe the natural world and follow those observations wherever they lead.”

He's right. This is ass-backward science at its absolute worst. This is dangerously, arrogantly ignorant snake-handler pseudo-science. It is on a par with phrenology or astrology. (Although, being a Gemini with Libra ascending, I'm naturally skeptical of such things to begin with.)

Although scientific method does indeed start with the hypothesis, and then works to provide evidence to support it, honest scientific method brooks no cheating; that is, even if you find some disconnected bits that may support your initial hypothesis, but the preponderance of testable empirical evidence debunks your theories, you must record it as such and adjust your hypothesis to something a bit more aligned with reality.

This is precisely where ID/young-earth creationism advocates fail, and fail miserably. It's not even close.

To Mike Clynne, a stratigrapher for the U.S. Geological Survey — he maps volcanoes — the young-Earth creationists make another fatal error, in how they think of time and scale.

Austin, Humphreys and their champions latch onto “very special geologic events” and, by extrapolation, misleadingly make them seem equivalent to much longer-term events, said Clynne, who worked at Mount St. Helens for seven years and is scheduled to deliver a presentation on its eruptive history this month at the Geochemical Society’s annual Goldschmidt Conference. “In effect, they are taking things that are correct out of context and applying [them] to the much bigger picture.”

Exactly. Science is impartial and dispassionate. When it encounters anomalies, it identifies them as such, places them in the overall context of the scientific discipline at hand, and moves on to the next empirically-testable hypothesis.

Lloyd and Doris Anderson do not blink at such criticism. They know what the scientific community thinks of them: “insane,” says the 7 Wonders Web site, and “ignorant” and “intolerant” and “oxymoronic.” They indulge it with amusement.

Lloyd Anderson says he honors scientists for their determination to ask questions and follow wherever the evidence leads. But when the Earth was born, “science wasn’t there,” he says. “God was there.”

Prove it, asshole. That's what scientists do. But Lloyd Anderson is not a scientist, he just plays one on TV. He's a rabble-rousing chump whose main purpose is political.

I thought God didn't like liars, Lloyd.

The Andersons’ visitors are certainly convinced.

“Forest has had so many questions for so many years, and Mr. Anderson is able to answer them,” says Doris Carnine, who attends a United Methodist church in Nebraska with her husband. “It’s just a gift.”

Yeah, it's just the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? It's nice that Forest had his questions answered to his personal level of satisfaction, but again, that's not science. Science attempts to get to the empirical fact of things. More often than not, this raises more questions.

Forest, and the rest of these goobers, are fooling themselves into thinking that they wish to be scientifically literate. They do not. They want people like Lloyd Anderson to provide comfortable answers with which they can remove doubt and internal conflict. They have deceived themselves with the notion that if they believe that the earth is more than 10,000 years old, and that evolution might be for real, that they have betrayed the God of their Bible. And jerkoffs like Lloyd Anderson have deliberately encouraged these internal conflicts in their flocks, inciting them to ultimately political actions, like infesting school boards with their superstitious nonsense.

This is ridiculous. Even if God does exist, any man attempting to divine the nature of such a being would be as reckless and ignorant as an ant telling itself it knows all about humans. There may indeed be a greater power out there, somewhere. It may even be humanocentric after all, though what would then be the purpose of populating the universe with billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars, most having at least several planets orbiting? Do these people really contemplate the sheer mathematical improbability of this? There's a better chance of them winning Powerball every week for five years straight, than this being the only planet in the entire universe with any intelligent life.

Then again, the more they win, the more these people reinforce their own argument -- maybe Darwin was wrong. Clearly these people are not evolving intellectually.

Insulting as that is, I mean it quite literally -- evolution is nothing more than adapting to either existing or fluctuating conditions in a systematic, consistent fashion. That's really all it is, and it's a very simple, easily observable premise.

These people ought to be ashamed of themselves, when you get right down to it. There is more than enough room for a person to be both religious and believe in evolution. They are not intellectually inconsistent; for that matter, they're not intellectually consistent either -- one merely has to reach the rather obvious understanding that you can't take the Bible literally any more than you can take Greek mythology or the Epic of Gilgamesh literally. They are tales meant to reinforce cultural mores, and as such, they have practical utility. For the thousandth time though, they are not science, and never will be, no matter how hard you pray and pretend otherwise.

For her part, Ingrid Carnine takes a rare break from corralling her sons to say the presentation reinforced her belief that children should be taught biblical creationism.

“Of course it has a place in the public schools,” where she says her two boys will be educated, “and I hope it gets in the public schools.”

I couldn't agree more. Start a nice comparative religion course, make it a requirement for graduation, and go with God on that.

In the meantime, we all have a serious decision to make, as to what side we're on here -- either we believe in logic, reason, and empricism, and reality-based scientific inquiry; or we keep letting religious grifters and purveyors of superstition and fake science infect our educational system, the very foundation on which we build the intellectual capacity for the next generations.

It's time to draw the line, and it's time the media got responsible and quit putting every dressed-up myth forward as if it deserved some serious credence. You wouldn't give this sort of legitimizing treatment to Scientology, so why the hell would you give it to Lloyd Anderson? Because he can read demotic Greek aloud in a basso profundo?

Everybody's got their backs up already, so might as well get our hands dirty and accomplish something in the name of scientific and human progress.


nelly123 said...

That was more of a fisting, than fisking.

And for the real idjits, I prefer neck-breathers over mouth-breathers. Ya know, gills.

And perhaps the scariest thing of all you mention is a remake of Grease. And from the wee talents of the man who almost, ALMOST destroyed the Batman movie license. What a hack.

nelly123 said...

Oops. The Schumacher comment was obviously for the previous post. And there were no WMD in Iraq.

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