Skepticism, Religion Archive

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public & Religious Fundamentalism

Note: This is a post of an essay that first appeared on my website August 15th, 2005. The original essay can be found here. This is part of an ongoing effort to put all of my soapbox entries onto this blog, to give a space for user feedback. A "new" retroactive post will be made every Monday.

15 August 2005

It seems like religious fundamentalism, specifically Fundamentalist Christianity, is on the rise in this country. I don't know if that's actually the case, whether regligious fundamentalists are just becoming more vocal, or whether it's because I moved from the northeast down to Texas, so I've noticed it more. Even though I'm a Christian, to me, religious fundamentalism seems like a bad thing. It takes a mindset that ignores scientific evidence and fosters ignorance, keeps scientifically knowledgeable non-Christians from accepting the religion, causes scientifically knowledgeable Christians (like myself) to question their faith, and in general makes Christianity seem like a religion for ignorant people. Worse, even though so many people claim to be Christians, I see a huge amount of hypocrisy in this country.

So, I'm writing this Soapbox entry. This is probably one of the least organized and least constructive essays I've ever put on my site. It's mainly just a chance for me to vent about things I see going on around me. Several of my friends fit into some of the things I'm complaining about, so don't take this too seriously. Yes, these things bother me, but my wording's probably a little bit stronger than I actually feel about it. They certainly haven't come in the way of any of my friendships.

Continue reading "Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public & Religious Fundamentalism" »

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Public Opinion Polls as Reasons to Teach Creationism & ID

Ever since I've gotten caught up in reading a lot of the debate between science and ID/creationism, I've noticed that many people try to use public opinion polls to say that ID or creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the science classroom. And ever since the Dover trial decision, I've read quite a few more articles using that argument, so I thought that I'd briefly address it.

Trying to base science curricula off of the public's understanding of science is just plain silly. Yes, we live in a democracy, so people should have a say in things that go on in our country. Unfortunately, most people don't have a good understanding of science. In 2001, the National Science Foundation conducted a Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology. A summary of some of the findings are copied below.

United States Europe
The center of the Earth is very hot. (True) 80 88
All radioactivity is man-made. (False) 76 53
The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. (True) 87 80
It is the father's gene which decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl. 65 48
Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False) 45 35
Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True) 48 41
Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. (False) 51 40
The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (True) 79 82
Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (True) 53 69
The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. (False) 48 59
Radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it. (False) 65 64
Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? (Earth around the Sun) 75 67
How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? (one year) 54 56
SOURCES: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, 2001; and European Commission, Eurobarometer 55.2 survey and standard report, Europeans, Science and Technology, December 2001.

Science & Engineering Indicators – 2004

Just look at some of those results, and not just the ones about evolution. They clearly show that a lot of people really don't know much about science. I mean, one in four people thought that the Sun goes around the Earth, half of the people surveyed didn't realize that electrons were smaller than atoms, and nearly half of the people didn't know that it takes a year for the Earth to go around the Sun. If this is American's understanding of basic, simple scientific facts, why should we rely on public opinion polls when it comes to teaching ID alongside evolution, or creationism in science at all, even ignoring the separation of church and state. School curricula should be determined by experts in the fields.

Really, if there's one thing that these public opinion polls tell us, it's where the weaknesses are in our science education system that need to be addressed. If our education system's so bad off that only half of Americans accept evolution, we obviously need to do a better job of teaching it (and apparently a whole bunch of other areas, as well).

Monday, January 2, 2006

Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Legality of Homosexual Marriage

Note: This is a post of an essay that first appeared on my website April 2nd, 2004. The original essay can be found here. This is part of an ongoing effort to put all of my soapbox entries onto this blog, to give a space for user feedback. A "new" retroactive post will be made every Monday.

2 April 2004

There's been a lot of information in the news as of late concerning gay marriage, so I thought I'd write down my opinions to throw into the debate. I think that marriage between homosexuals should be legal, and below are the reasons why.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis

The other day, I did something that maybe I shouldn't have. I struck up a conversation with a couple co-workers about Intelligent Design. We kept it friendly enough. They already know my religious/scientific opinions, and I already knew theirs, so there weren't any heated arguments. I was just interested to see how fundamentalists felt about Intelligent Design, and about the judge's decision in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education case.

Here's why I was curious to their opinion. It seems to me that if you're going to reject evolution on religious (Christian) grounds, it's because you believe in basically a literal interpretation of the Bible. i.e. that the creation story in Genesis is accurate. If you don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (i.e. you believe in a figurative, allegorical, historical or some other interpretation), then there shouldn't be any religious reason to reject evolution. So I wondered, if you hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, what would be your take on Intelligent Design? A lot of the ID proponents claim that ID is really science, and that they're just trying to point out evidence of an intelligent designer. They stress that they're not trying to support the Bible. Further, some of the evidence that they use goes against a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis, such as using the Cambrian "Explosion" of 500 million years ago. Really, it makes me wonder why ID is so popular. It's bad science, as evidenced by its overwhelming rejection by the scientific community (not just lack of acceptance, which would characterize most new theories, but actual rejection), and, from a fundamentalist viewpoint, it's bad religion, because it's counter to a 6 day creation.

So, when I brought it up to those co-workers that ID goes against a literal interpretation of Genesis because it allows for the Earth being billions of years old, they got kind of wishy washy on the age of the Earth. Their reply was something to the effect of, "A day in the life of God is like a thousand years to man," so how can we be sure how long the days in Genesis actually were. My first thought was, wow, so the Bible's only literal when it's convenient; otherwise, it's open to interpretation. But then I decided to look into it a little further. Maybe there was something to their line of argument. After a little research, I found people who said that in the original Hebrew, the word used for "day" in Genesis could be translated as either day or age, and that maybe age was the word that should be used there. This, or the day to a thousand years argument my coworkers used, actually turn out to be pretty popular arguments. So, I went back and took another look at Genesis, and, well, these day-age interpretations just don't make any more sense.

More below the fold.

Continue reading "Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis" »

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intelligent Design

Well, I've been thinking of writing about Intelligent Design for awhile. With yesterday's ruling on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education case, I figured that now was a good time to make a few comments. But it's a big topic, and lot's of bloggers already cover it in great detail, so I'll try to keep this entry relatively short and just say a few comments relevant to the Kitzmiller case.

A lot of people seem to be focusing on calling Intelligent Design a form of creationism. I think that's missing the point. If you go ahead and call it science, like the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents would like, then Intelligent Design is just plain bad science, or at the best, fringe science rejected by the scientific community at large. ID proponents like to compare this to Galileo, or other people whose ideas weren't accepted by the mainstream right away. A good rebuttal to this argument is on Respectful Insolence, which he calls the Galileo Gambit. Here's one of my favorite quotes from that entry, which Orac was actually himself quoting from the book, Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer, "For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose 'truths' never pass scientific muster with other scientists. The scientific community cannot be expected to test every fanstastic claim that comes along, especially when so many are logically inconsistent." In other words, fringe science usually remains fringe science because it just plain isn't true. The few that actually become mainstream (like Galileo) do so based on the strength of their evidence.

Should we really be expected to teach in public school science classes an idea that's just plain bad? Some people like to invoke public opinion polls, saying how many people think ID should be taught alongside evolution. I think that's a horrible idea. For any particular subject area, curriculum should be determined by experts in that field, not the general public. I think the fact that so many people in the U.S. doubt evolution is all the more reason to teach it in school. The lack of acceptance is not due to lack of evidence or the fact that evolution doesn't/hasn't occured, it's due to lack of education. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, not an indicator that evolution shouldn't be taught as confidently as we teach other scientific theories (like gravity, germ theory, atomic theory, etc.) To put this in another way, you always read about those polls that say how poorly people do on geography, not knowing where certain countries are located or even not knowing whether certain countries exist. People usually take that as an indicator that we need better education in geography - it doesn't make them question whether said country actually exists. Why should it be different with evolution?

And to touch briefly on the "Teach the Controversy" mantra, high school science class isn't the place to do it, any more than history class is a place to question the holocaust, or math class is a place to question number theory. We're trying to give the students a solid foundation of knowledge. While we should promote critical thinking, at that point, with the limited scientific knowledge the students have, it's a waste of time, actually more than that, I'd consider it a disservice, to present students with a good theory and a bogus theory, and ask them to pick which one they think makes more sense. In that type of high school environment, I doubt many math students would buy into imaginary numbers or general relativity.

One of the things that bothers me about the pro-evolution side of the debate is overstressing the "naturalistic" nature of science. Granted, that's probably the best way to go about science, but if it were up to me, I'd like to change the definition to something more like "determining through the study of evidence the most likely explanations to observed phenomenon." It would be about trying to determine the truth, whether or not it can be explained in a naturalistic manner. In other words, if there were strong evidence that indicated a supernatural cause to a phenomenon, that evidence shouldn't be ruled out strictly because it's supernatural. That being said, there are reams of evidence available backing up much of evolutionary theory, and I personally don't see how any supernatural causes would have to be invoked to explain evolution, but I still think it's a bit close-minded to rule out a whole class of possible causes just because they aren't natural. To put it maybe in slightly better words, science should be evidence based, no matter the source of the evidence, as long as the evidence is credible.

Anyway, the above paragraph was just a preamble to this one. Many of the comments I've seen floating about since yesterday's decision are that "Darwinists" (going by that terminology, I guess I'm a Wrightist, since I'm an aerospace engineer) are clinging so desparately to evolution because they need an explanation that doesn't involve the supernatural. I think those types of arguments are a bunch of hooey. People like evolution because it's the best explanation of the evidence, whether you consider supernatural explanations or not. Just like I don't need to invoke the supernatural to explain how airplanes fly, because fluid dynamics and physics do a good job of explaining it. Just take a look at Talk Origins for a sampling of the pro-evolution evidence available. If you don't like Talk Origins, just spend some time reading some science magazines. Evolution just fits all of the data that we have available.

Anyway, a lot of this was more support of evolution than refutation of ID, but that's just the way it turned out.

Update 2007-02-28: Yeah, this is pretty late to make an update, but I just went back through and read this entry, now that I've studied this issue a little more, and see an area where I made a mistake - naturalism. Science operates by methodological naturalism (as opposed to metaphysical naturalism), which basically just means studying evidence. If you want to say ghosts were the cause of something, that's fine as a scientific theory, as long as you present some evidence for it. So, it's technically true that science operates via naturalism, and that this doesn't necessarily rule out mechanisms that people would normally consider "supernatural." Still, I think it's misleading to the general public, and the pro-reality side would be better served by stressing that science is "evidence based," no matter what the source of the evidence.

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