Skepticism, Religion Archive

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Can't Escape Fundamentalists Even When I'm Researching Pure Science

I'm a nerd. Just about anybody who knows me is aware of that fact. It means that at any given moment, I'm likely to be thinking nerdy, technical things. I bring this up to explain this next sentence I'm about to write. The other day, I was thinking about tree ring dating, or dendrochronology, and wondering how far back people have been able to date things using that technique. dendrochronology is based on the simple premise of counting tree rings to figure out how old a piece of wood is. A fancy trick that you can use to extend your dates, since the rings show patterns based on varying conditions from year to year, is to match up one of those patterns on one tree with the same pattern on an older tree.

So, I did a Google search on "tree ring oldest date" to see what I could find, and the second entry that Google returned to me was this page on Answers in Genesis, a site run by a bunch of people who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Why, when I'm looking up something scientific, is the second best result from Google a page by young earth creationists? (It reminds me of another time when I looked up "electron probability cloud," and the first result on Google was this creationist page. What does the Bible have to do with particle physics?)

If that was the whole story, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to write a blog entry. It would have been an annoyance, but not much else. But there's more. When I do Google searches, most of the time I don't really look at the url of the page before clicking on it. So, even though I wouldn't normally go visit the Answers in Genesis site on purpose, I clicked this link to take me there. Once I realized what site it was, I thought, what the hell, as long as I'm here, I might as well read what they have to say. Their basic problem was that if Noah's flood occurred around 4350 years ago, and tree ring dating indicates trees older than that that weren't disturbed by a worldwide flood, then there's got to be a problem somewhere. And obviously, they blamed the science.

The article put forward several explanations of why dendrochronology might be problematic, but here's the quote that really got me, the one that got me worked up enough to write this blog entry. The article said, "However, when the interpretation of scientific data contradicts the true history of the world as revealed in the Bible, then it’s the interpretation of the data that is at fault." Of course! Because noone's ever been wrong in their interpretation of the Bible. Like those jews who thought that the Messiah would be a warrior, or in the Middle Ages, when the church arrested Gallileo for teaching that horribly heretical idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system.

That really disturbs me that people have that mindset, that they already "know" what the truth is, and no amount of evidence is going to change their mind. How can people be so close-minded? It especially bothers me considering what they're basing it on. I mean, when it comes to scientific questions like the age of the earth, which would you rather bet on, a preponderance of scientific data and the theories explaining that data, or an interpretation of a translation of a collection of writings compiled from many different authors over the course of centuries, that hasn't had any new material added since not long after the death of Christ? Oh, and the translations are based off of copies of the originals, since the original versions no longer exist. I know where I'd put my money.

Anyway, here's a decent primer on dendrochronology, without all the fundamentalist blabber. By the way, at least in the region that this article focuses on, they've been able to extend the chronology back to around 9,000 years ago.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

A Meandering Tale About Fundamentalism

Well, since this is the first day of my blog, I want to get a real entry on it, so here goes.

A few weeks ago, my family and I went to a flea market. At one of the stands, when the vendor found out that it was my wife's birthday, he gave her a CD as a present. It was from a collection of religious materials that had caught my eye before (since I've been spending so much time recently thinking about & researching religious fundamentalism). It was titled something like "What Hollywood Believes," and had the name Ray Comfort written across the top. There were all types of little blurbs on the CD case, which lead me and my wife to believe that it was going to be full of either interviews with, or monologues by, celebrities talking about their religious beliefs.

It took a while for us to actually listen to the CD, but on a car ride down to my wife's family on Thanksgiving, she popped it into the car CD player to see what it was like. It turns out that, no, this wasn't interviews or monologues, it was a sermon by this Ray Comfort fellow. It doesn't start off too bad. A few introductions and a little humor, but then the lunacy began. All types of logical fallacies and inane comments, which maybe I'll go into more detail on in a followup blog entry. Anyway, my six year old daughter was sitting in the back seat, and with as impressionable as kids are, I didn't want her hearing everything this guy was saying and just accepting it as truth. So, I spoke up quite a bit during his talking, countering a lot of his arguments. Well, after about ten minutes of that, my wife got fed up with my speaking over it, so she turned off the radio.

A few days later as I was driving into work, I went to turn on the radio to listen to NPR like I normally do on my drive in. Well, this CD was still in there, so I decided just to let it play for a little while to see what he had to say. And it wasn't any better than on Thanksgiving. There were a few arguments that were so bad that I actually responded out loud, even though there was nobody else in the car. Here's the one that I thought was the worst. He was trying to discredit evolution, making it look silly compared to a literal interpretation of the Bible. He said something to the effect of, "Just think about it. The first fish to come up out of the sea to walk on land needed gills to breathe in the sea, but it also needed lungs to breathe on land. If it was a land animal, what was it doing with gills? And if it was a sea animal, what was it doing with lungs?" Boy, oh boy. Is this guy not even aware of living animals. The first two things that popped into my mind were African lungfish, and mudskippers, both of which can breathe underwater or on land. A little internet research found that there are many fish that can breathe air, like the bettas that are so popular at pet stores. It's mainly an adaptation to lving in oxygen poor environments. There are even a few fish where air breathing is their primary means of obtaining oxygen.

So anyway, I wrote my wife a short e-mail about it, saying how I couldn't believe people could be so stupid to buy into arguments like his, not just the ones about evolution, but his religious arguments in general. Well, when my wife read that e-mail, one of her co-workers was standing over her shoulder at the time. After reading it, she turned to my wife and said, "You don't believe in evolution, do you?" And that got them started into a big long debate about religion.

If you've been following the news, you may have heard about the girl with the peanut allergy who died after kissing her boyfriend, because her boyfriend had just eaten something with peanut butter. It's really sad. Anyway, Irma and some co-workers were talking about it, when said co-worker walks in and says, "that's what you get for french-kissing a boy when you're only fifteen." Just stop and think about that. She's saying that proper punishment for a french kiss is death. What a callous, self-righteous person. I can think of stronger words to say, but I want to try to keep this blog civil. It's just kind of an indication of the kinds of attitudes that fundmentalists hold, and it's kind of scary.

Anyway, that's my meandering story, from a flea market just outside Houston, to my wife's co-worker. It just really amazes me the attitudes some people have in this country.


Selling Out