Sunday 28 June 2009

Creationists can't see evolution when it's right under their noses

From the Creation Science Movement blog:

Peppered moths back to form - Creation Science Movement

This creationist clearly doesn't understand what evolution is. His very words explain what's happening in evolutionary terms, but still Andrew Sibley denies that evolution is happening.
Scientists are reporting that the peppered moth, Biston betularia is now reverting back to its light form because of improvements to the environment. Of course this story is presented as evidence of evolution, but in reality it is just a change in the ratio of the numbers of the light and dark form. In other words, evidence of natural selection on pre existing genetic material, not an example of evolution at work.
Pardon me? Just a change in the ratio of the numbers of the light and dark form? How does this creationist imagine evolution works? If changing conditions now favour the lighter form, it's the lighter form that will reproduce more, and their offspring will also be the lighter form. The ratio of lighter to darker will increase further. It's evolution in action, and this creationist can't see it. This is the very definition of closed-minded.

Prior to the above, Stephen Hayes posted about laughter in humans and apes being homologous:

He who sits in the heavens laughs - Creation Science Movement
But why not 'homology', with a Creator in whose image we are made? This is the real 'alternative' which is always assumed to be unworthy of consideration. As Psalm 2 says 'He who sits in the heavens laughs'. Read the whole Psalm for the context - God laughs at arrogant, foolish men who seek to reject His rule, and warns them to 'pay homage to the Son' while there is still time.
Sorry, but invoking a supernatural being isn't in any way congruent with valid scientific research. Creationism will get nowhere if it continues to fall back on the ubiquitous "Goddidit" as an alternative to theories it doesn't like.

Saturday 20 June 2009

A. C. Grayling at Conway Hall - Darwin, Humanism & Science

While I get around to posting my thoughts on the Darwin, Humanism & Science event held at Conway Hall two weeks ago, the BHA has posted this recording of A. C. Grayling's talk with which he wound up the day:

I'm not sure why the first thing they've posted is the last thing on the schedule (unless it's the only thing they're going to post), but be that as it may, Grayling's talk was relaxed and informal, without slides, focussing on C. P. Snow's idea of "The Two Cultures".

Friday 12 June 2009

Burnee links for Friday

Derren Brown Blog » Blog Archive » Funeral home worker chopped off legs of 6ft7in man to fit him in coffin

Islamic representatives threaten freedom of speech expert at UN | National Secular Society

Michael Gove promises even more "faith schools" under the Tories | The Reason Project

New Archbishop gets rap from NSS for self-serving "faith school" comments | The Reason Project

Freethinker - Adoption rights for gays is tantamount to ‘child abuse’, says the Catholic Church

Humanists disappointed with Faith Foundation’s new education programme
It doesn't surprise me that Tony Blair's Faith Foundation misses the opportunity to educate across all beliefs and none. The whole thing seems to have been conceived in a spirit of "Me too!" and appears to be predicated on the presupposition that "faith" is in and of itself a good thing. I'll be further surprised if this foundation manages anything more than tokenism.

Science, Reason and Critical Thinking: On-line Psychic My Arse

Do Animals Have Morality? | Unreasonable Faith

Web archiving is an important skeptic tool « Skeptical Software Tools
Tim Farley's posts at Skeptical Software Tools may be months apart, but when they do appear they are pure gold.

Skeptico: Cargo Cult Religion

The Big Accommodationism Debate: all relevant posts « Why Evolution Is True

Saturday 6 June 2009

Richard Dawkins at Conway Hall, London

I spent today at Conway Hall in London, where the British Humanist Association put on a one-day conference, "Darwin, Humanism and Science" (I listed the programme in a previous post.)

I'll post more about the event in a day or so, but for the time being here's a taster of Richard Dawkins during the Q&A after his keynote, answering a question about the language Darwin used.

I recorded this with my little digicam, so the quality is no great shakes (actually no shakes at all - the cam at least has decent vibration reduction) and the sound is woolly. Professional video equipment was in evidence, however, so with luck we may eventually have access to recordings of the whole event.

Friday 5 June 2009

Simon Singh to appeal

It's great news that Simon Singh is to appeal the nonsensical ruling in the libel case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association. We know that quack-merchants often resort to law when challenged, rather than produce evidence to support their claims. This diversionary tactic needs to be exposed.

English libel law is not an appropriate tool in such disputes, but I wonder if perhaps it has been unfairly mis-characterised. Some maintain that Singh is being asked to prove a negative, when all sceptics know that the burden of proof rests on those making the claim. But in this case Singh did make a public claim, that the BCA "happily promotes bogus treatments" - and the BCA has demanded, in a court of law, that he prove his claim. That the BCA would have difficulty in proving their own claims for the efficacy of chiropractic is a separate issue - strictly it's not their claims that are under examination here.

Singh's claim, however, is clearly justified: the treatments to which he refers are promoted by the BCA (and presumably they wouldn't promote these treatments if they weren't "happy" with such promotion), and plenty of trials, studies and surveys have shown that these specific treatments are indeed "bogus" - that is, "not genuine or true" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, eleventh edition). The BCA may dispute the plethora of evidence that their treatments are bogus, and as a result may sincerely believe in the efficacy of the treatments, but bogus they remain. Contrary to the judge's interpretation, Singh made no claim in his Guardian article as to whether or not the BCA was knowingly promoting treatments that don't work.

free debate

It will be a scandal if Singh loses this appeal, because such a result would reinforce the erroneous idea that libel law is an appropriate instrument for quashing dissent and scientific scrutiny.

I think Simon Singh has a good case for defence - but I am not a lawyer. For comprehensive insight from someone who his, check out Jack of Kent. To sign the statement of support, go to Sense About Science.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Did Darwin Kill God?

Looking through some two-month-old notes I found something I scribbled in response to a BBC TV programme shown on March 31, "Did Darwin Kill God?" Part of the BBC's Darwin programming, it was presented by Conor Cunningham. This is what I wrote (copy-edited for a modicum of clarity):
A mess. Hardly surprising - Conor Cunningham describes himself as a philosopher and theologian. He claims that literal interpretation of the Bible is not mainstream, and never has been. The conflicting stories in Genesis (Adam and Eve created together vs. Adam, then Eve) are stories intended to deliver deeper truths, and should be read thus.

So what's stopping anyone interpreting the Bible as a story whose deeper truth is that God is a figment of human imagination?

Theology is made up. It's like a lesser form of literary criticism. At least literary critics acknowledge that what they're studying is fiction. How would you react to a long, in-depth critique of Harry Potter that started from the presumption that J. K. Rowling's stories were historical fact?
A couple of days later the programme came up for discussion on, to which I added the following comment:
This programme rang alarm bells as soon as Cunningham stated he was a philosopher and theologian. Maybe he's right about the historicity of the interpreted understanding of the Bible - I don't know enough about it to agree or disagree. But as all theologians do, he started his interpretation with the assumption that God exists. (He had to; without this assumption, all of theology crumbles to dust.)

To go a little further in interpreting the "apparently" contradictory stories in Genesis ("Adam and Eve" vs. "Adam, then Eve") - if these stories are not to be taken literally (which they can't be if they contradict each other), and instead are intended to be fables that reveal deeper truths, one might come to the conclusion that Adam and Eve never existed as real people.

Nor, then, did the talking snake exist, nor the fruit, nor the tree. Perhaps none of the characters portrayed in either story actually existed in the literal, or any, sense. An allegorical or metaphorical reading of Genesis, according to Cunningham's argument, does not require the reader to take any of it literally, including the existence of one other character in the stories - God.
Later in the same thread, user "lazarus" posted a link to the BBC message boards discussion of the programme, and the programme itself is apparently available via BitTorrent. Incidentally, I've aired my opinion of theology previously on this blog.

Burnee links for Wednesday

Burnee linksA delayed and sparse list of links this week:

DC’s Improbable Science - Prince of Wales Foundation for magic medicine: spin on the meaning of ‘integrated’

Why I’m watching the Hubble repairs so intently | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Ghost Hunter Patrick Burns Pens Ghost Hunting for Teens Book | Center for Inquiry

New Humanist Blog: Simon Singh hopes to appeal chiropracty libel ruling, but can't confirm yet

Modern day Isaacs : Pharyngula

NeuroLogica Blog » License for Homeopathic Pill in UK

BHA - Lords criticise Census question on religion as "flawed" and discriminatory