Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, First Part of a Series

God or Gorilla PicMy parents bought me an interesting present for Christmas a couple years ago. It was an old book published in 1922, titled God- or Gorilla? How the Monkey Theory of Evolution Exposes Its Own Methods, Refutes Its Own Principles, Denies Its Own Inferences, Disproves Its own Case. As you can guess, the author, Alfred W. McCann, was not a big fan of universal common descent. (For those of you who may be wondering, my parents aren't creationists - they bought the book because they knew I'd find it interesting.)

After reading the book, I knew I wanted to do a review of it on this blog, but I wasn't exactly sure how. McCann's not really a household name, so I didn't feel like he had a strong influence that needed to be countered. I also do have a bit of sympathy for his position, in that the evidence for evolution wasn't quite as strong in the '20s as it is today (it was still pretty strong, though). He also spent a good deal of time debunking the Piltdown Man, which is now widely acknowledged as a hoax. However, one of the things that struck me about the book is that many of the arguments that McCann used are still being used by creationists today, so refuting those arguments is still relevant.

I'd originally intended to quote just a few passages to give the flavor of the book, with a little commentary and links to the relevant entries in the Index to Creationist Claims where appropriate. However, once I started skimming through the book and pulling out interesting quotes, I ended up with 40 pages worth of excerpts! So, I decided to turn this into a series. I'll try to post a new installment to the series every Friday.

McCann's writing style was a bit, shall we say, flamboyant. In fact, it is eerily similar to the kook style you see on Internet forums today. I can only imagine what the book would have looked like if the publisher had allowed multiple fonts, or had the ability to do color printing. I've tried to quote the book faithfully throughout this review. Any italics, bold, or other forms of emphasis, unless specifically noted, were done by McCann himself. On a similar note, McCann was very fond of using '(sic)' in the quotes in his book. To avoid confusion, I'll use '[sic, jrl]' whenever I use the term.

This book is available online through The Internet Archive and Google Books, though without the musty smell and incoherent scribbles in the margins that you get from the real deal. Actually, that's not quite true - the Google copy does have a few scribbles, but not nearly as many as my copy. The Internet Archive edition appears to match the edition I read, while the Google edition lacks the appendices.

Obviously, I'm going to criticize creationism quite a bit in this series of entries, so, let me make the necessary disclaimer right up front. I realize that around half the people in this country are creationists. For most of them, I think it's simply ignorance. I don't mean that as an insult - it's a failure of our country's education system. So, if you're a creationist who's never been exposed to a good discussion of evolution, don't take offense to my comments here. My frustration is directed mainly at people like McCann and his modern day counterparts like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, who despite being so ignorant of evolution, are actively spreading their misinformation to others. (For a fuller version of this disclaimer, read my entry, Run of the Mill vs. Big Name Creationists.)

To make sure that I didn't stall out mid-book, I actually completed most of the review before I started posting entries. So, I have the advantage of seeing how the entire review turned out, which you readers won't know for a few months. I do think it's interesting, and I hope you enjoy it, but looking back, I'm not sure it was worth the effort I put into it. Had I put the same effort into writing something a little more organized, I probably could have created a better resource for learning about evolution. So, I doubt I'll ever do another review of this depth (I'm no Slacktivist). If you do enjoy this review, savor it.

As one last introductory note, I'll be using this entry as a table of contents for the series. I will make updates here with links to all of the subsequent entries in this review.

Added 2013-01-22 I've slightly reorganized this site, putting all of these entries into their own section. So, if you want to just browse through them all, you can read them at:
God - Or Gorilla? Archive

Proceed to Introduction & Chapter 1

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Female Wrestlers in Iowa State Tournament

WrestlingI wrestled back in middle school and high school. I was never great, but I wrestled varsity many of those years and won more matches than I lost*. My senior year, two girls decided to join the team. This was the first time it had ever happened at my high school. Before the season started, the rest of the team talked about it a bit. We wondered if it was appropriate to wrestle a girl, and whether or not they should be on the team. Well, as soon as practices started up, it just kind of fell into place. They were just two more wrestlers, and were treated just about like everybody else on the team (with the exception of using a different locker room and getting weighed in separately). It turned out to not be a big deal at all. One of the girls was pretty good for her first year. Obviously, they were wrestling JV, but this girl won a lot of her matches, and even pinned a couple of her opponents. This was all about 15 years ago.

Fast forward to the present day, and two girls share the honor of being the first female wrestlers to make it to the Iowa state tournament, Cassy Herkelman and Megan Black, both in the 112 lb weight class. Making it to the state tournament is a big accomplishment anywhere, but especially in Iowa where wrestling is so popular.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy about girls wrestling. Sophomore, Joel Northrup, Herkelman's opponent in the first round, refused to wrestle her. Afterwards, he had the following to say.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.

So, some kid's citing his religion to refuse to wrestle his opponent, and then playing the victim card to try to gain sympathy.

Look. Girls who go into wrestling understand the risks just like boys do. They've made the decision that they accept those risks. And girls such as Herkelman and Black have obviously put in a lot of effort. You don't make it to the state tournament just by signing up. You have to practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more, not to mention all the conditioning. Herkelman and Black are legitimate opponents. And don't forget that wrestling is done by weight class. It's not as if 112 pound girls are wrestling 200 pound boys. Everybody wrestles opponents similar to their own weight. Northrup's refusal to wrestle Herkelman simply because she's female is more than a little patronizing.

I don't think it's unfortunate at all that Northrup was put in the position he was. Actually, I take that back. I think it's unfortunate that he was raised the way he was to think he had to react the way he did. If he had been raised to see women as equals, instead of inferior specimens in need of protection, he wouldn't have had a problem wrestling Herkelman. So yes, it is a shame that the circumstances in this boy's life have led to this situation. But it's not unfortunate at all that girls are now being successful enough to qualify for the state tournament.

If you want to read more about this, you can read the articles from Fox Sports or Yahoo. The Fox Sports article even had a poll on whether boys should wrestle girls. Around 3/4 of the respondents don't think they should. I wouldn't recommend reading the comments from the articles, though. It's not good for the blood pressure.

So, congratulations to Cassy Herkelman, Megan Black, and all the other wrestlers who have made the tournament. Good luck, and may the best wrestlers win.

* To brag just a little, I wrestled varsity my last year of middle school, once or twice my freshman year of high school when the older boy in my weight class got injured, and then my sophomore, junior, and senior years, lettering those last three years, and placing 3rd place in the county tournament my junior year (plus a few 3rd and 4th place finishes in other tournaments throughout my 'career'). I got injured towards the end of my senior year, so I didn't finish out that season, and didn't get to wrestle in the county tournament that year. So, I was a little better than average, but not near good enough to go on to wrestle in college. All of the wrestlers mentioned in this entry are far better than I ever was.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Double Blind Gaze

Skeptic Society UFOI've gotten permission from The Skeptics Society to post one of their old articles on this site. The article is:

The Double-Blind Gaze: How the Double-Blind Experimental Protocol Changed Science.

If you've never read this article before, I highly recommend that you do so now. It focuses mainly on medicine, but also shows how it can be difficult to determine the truth of reality, and why the scientific method is so important.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reliance on Bible Translations

ScribeI'm currently in the process of reading Hector Avalos's book, The End of Biblical Studies. One of the things I was struck by reading the first chapter is just how dependent most of us are on translators when reading the Bible. After all, the good book wasn't written in English, and most us can't speak ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, so we really do put a lot of trust in translators to deliver a text that accurately reflects what the original writers intended.

Sometimes, however, there's reason to question that accuracy. Avalos discussed the passage in Genesis 2:18-19. Here are three popular translations of that passage. Pay close attention to the timing of the events described.

From the New International Version (NIV):

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

From the King James Version (KJV):

18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

From the New Living Translation (NLT):

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.

From the NIV translation, using the tense 'had formed' in verse 19, makes the timing a bit ambiguous. It's not clear whether God created the animals before or after he created Adam. The KJV definitely seems to imply that the creation of the animals came after Adam. And according to the the NLT, it's quite obvious that Adam came first. Of course, if the NLT is accurate, it would be a contradiction with the creation story presented in the first chapter of Genesis, where animals and birds were created before humans. Something as seemingly minor as verb tense can have major implications for the varying interpretations of the Bible.

Discussing the NIV translation, after making the same points I did above, here's what Avalos had to say.

However, when speaking of the origin of the human male in verse 7, the NIV translates as a simple past tense (formed) the same Hebrew form of the verb (yatzar; [Hebrew characters]) found in verse 19. Since the Hebrew shows no difference in the form of the verb, the inconsistency in the NIV's translation seems solely motivated by an attempt at nullifying the contradiction.

So, if we're to trust Avalos, it looks like the NIV has translated the same word in two different ways, for no apparent reason other than trying to hide a contradiction. At the very least, we can say that separate teams of translators have come up with different interpretations of the same passage.

Avalos discussed other examples besides the creation stories. It really emphasized for me how much of an impact translators can have on the meaning of passages. It certainly showed me how naive I was in simply accepting that modern day translators had faithfully reconstructed the meaning of the ancient texts.

Monday, January 31, 2011

More Thoughts on Left Behind After Finishing the Book

I'd already written my initial impressions of Left Behind after reading the first 50 pages. I mentioned in that entry that I'd started reading Slacktivist's reviews of the book, which had biased me against the story before I even started reading it. Well, I finally finished the first book. My pace reading the book outstripped my pace reading Slactivist's blog entries, so I was able to be less biased by preconceptions. That helped. The book still wasn't the greatest, but I could at least begin to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story for what it was. In fact, I think I'll try to finish the whole series (just not all at once).

Much of what I wrote in my initial impressions hasn't changed. The two lead characters, Cameron 'Buck' Williams and Rayford Steele, aren't very sympathetic. You don't so much root for them, as just read to see what's going to happen. The two characters that readers could relate to the most were Hattie Durham, the flight attendant that Steele had led on for years, only to dump in the aftermath of the Rapture, and Chloe Steel, Rayford's daughter.

One thing I didn't mention in the first review was the lack of detail. The introduction of Hattie Durham described her as "drop dead gorgeous", but that was all the detail given. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes "drop dead gorgeous", so I was left wondering if she was beutiful in an Elle McPherson sort of way, or a Tyra Banks sort of way, or a Halle Berry sort of way, or Marilyn Monroe sort of way, or an Eva Mendes sort of way, or a Salma Hayek sort of way, or an Angelina Jolie sort of way, or, well, you get the picture. There are so many different ways a woman can be considered gorgeous, that it's not a very descriptive description. It wasn't until around 50 pages into the book that we learned Hattie weighed 115 pounds, and we didn't really get much more description after that. And this was similar to all of the main characters. I now know that Buck is blonde, and in reasonably good shape, but L&J gave so little detail that I just imagined him throughout the book to look like Kirk Cameron, the actor who played him in the movie.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of the book is what it revealed about L&J's view of the world (and by extension, those people with similar outlooks). L&J portrayed non-believers as being skeptical of religion, or just not being very interested in religion at all. But remember, they're writing about a post-Rapture world. Everybody on Earth had already witnessed the miraculous defense of Israel during the Russian attack, and the sudden disappearance of billions in one instant. These aren't miracles on the scale of seeing the Virgin Mary in a potato chip. These are the types of events that would make James Randi and Michael Shermer sit up and take notice. Given the continued skepticism of religion exhibited by many characters in the book following these miracles, I can only imagine that that's the way L&J see the world, now. They must think that evidence for the divine is obvious, and us skeptics choose not to see it. I'm not sure if they understand how much some of us have looked for that evidence, or the sincerity of our non-belief. (Or maybe they're Calvinists, and don't think it matters how much we try, since Yahweh's already decided who he's going to save and who he's going to punish for all eternity in the fiery furnace with the gnashing of teeth.)

There's a similar theme with conspiracy theorists. In the world of Left Behind, there's a global cabal pulling all the strings behind the curtains. Buck Williams knows an informant who's told him of various meetings and decisions of this group. But despite the informant being right, even on extremely unlikely events (like predicting the global economy consolidating on three currencies - dollars, marks and yen), Buck still treats the guy as a bit loony because he's a conspiracy theorist. In the real world, conspiracy theorists are mocked not just because of their outlandish ideas, but because of their lack of evidence to back them up. If any conspiracy theorists could back up their ideas the way Buck's informant did in the book, people would start taking them seriously. Again, I wonder if this comes from L&J's own experience. They're entirely convinced that their own outlandish ideas are true, yet they've been mocked repeatedly for those ideas. Is that just how L&J think the world deals with (what they consider to be) true ideas?

Left Behind wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible, either. It wasn't, as Slacktivist said, "The Worst Book Ever Written." At the very least, it gives you some insight into the mindset of premillenial dispensationalists. If you can get past the corny dialog, unlikeable heros, and lack of detail, and then suspend your disbelief about the implausible scenarios, you can enjoy the book. I liked it enough that I'll probably read the rest of the series.


Selling Out