Monday, February 8, 2010

“Intelligent Design” = Religious Creationism

Creationism is a religious idea of the beginning of the universe. There have been as many creation myths as religions, and no one myth is better than the other. The high amount of Christianity in the United States has led to a movement seeking to belittle the scientific advances we’ve had on the origin of life and advance the Christian creation myth, having it taught as if it were science. The movement has made many claims that certain scientific facts back up creationism, but most of these claims have revealed the movement’s lack of scientific literacy and have been debunked. I will address these specific claims in later blogs, but today I will talk about the credibility of the creationism movement.

Merely believing in creationism is one thing, but many try to make it appear as a scientific theory, giving it a credible-sounding name (“Intelligent Design” or ID), wanting it taught in schools, and saying that it’s an “alternative” theory with much evidence in its favor, all the while making ill-informed criticisms of evolution. ID is not mainstream science as its proponents claim. The movement has shown itself time and time again to simply be a propaganda machine trying to give the appearance of respectability:
  • a 2003 poll showed support for teaching of intelligent design, but was found to be falsely reported and worthless to begin with
  • the Discovery Institute presented a bibliography listing reputable scientists who had dissented with evolution and supported ID. When the scientists were contacted, they said their work did not support ID or challenge evolution, and many said their work was evidence against ID
  • in order to get their promotional video on television, the ID movement deliberately hid the fact that it was about intelligent design
On top of the ID movement’s dishonesty, the “theory” itself has no explanatory power. A theory has explanatory power if facts can be deduced from it, and no facts have ever been deduced from ID theory. It may try to account for things we see, but accounting for things means nothing towards a theory’s truth. For instance, I can use my new “it’s magic” theory (IM) to say why things are the way they are. Now my theory can account for any fact anywhere, but it’s about as far from science as you can get. A real theory that reflects the workings of our world makes predictions and produces facts. ID has done neither.

In order for creationism to even be plausible, you must first show that there is a God, which is impossible to do. The “evidence” that the creationism movement shows for God (alleged failings of evolution and the big bang) is the same “evidence” they use to try and validate creationism, so there is a circular argument going on. It is no mystery why the scientific community doesn’t acknowledge creationism as an alternative: it is clearly motivated by religious theology and lacks the properties of a scientific theory.

- Evan

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Open Mind: seeking truth rather than knowing it

It has been commonly assumed that life started in some ‘primordial soup’ of chemicals on the planet, and that somehow these chemicals begat life. How life began was still a mystery, but this ‘primordial soup’ idea seemed the most plausible. However, on February 3rd, the 80-year-old theory involving the origin of life was overturned. Quoting the linked article, the primordial soup idea could not provide the “sustained driving force to make anything react, and without an energy source, life as we know it can’t exist.” The new idea is that life began at hydrothermal vents in the ocean, where there is bountiful energy and already-existing chemical processes that resemble what today’s cells use for respiration.

One goal of reasonable people is to never become attached to your beliefs about the world in any way. If we do this, we can easily and happily accept new and better ideas, discarding the old. This is how science works: being able to converge on truth by letting the evidence speak for itself. It can be a slow process sometimes - in this case an 80-year process - but it is sure and steady.

One reason I reject religion is its inability to find truth. There is no objective guide to what is correct and incorrect in religion; things cannot be falsified. So when someone has a new idea, who is to say whether they are right or wrong? This is why there are so many sects of all the different religions instead of a single unified one. How can we know which ideas are right? There are many competing ideas in science too, but they will be resolved eventually, just like all the other debates before them.

When we compare science to religion as far as a branching tree of ideas, we can visualize that religion, since the beginning, has branched off constantly, wandering about and creating thousands of incompatible and unverifiable ideologies, and has so far discovered nothing about the world. Visualizing the creation and discarding of ideas in science, we can see that science converges on itself, slowly weeding out the incorrect ideas and replacing them with good ones. New branches of ideas are common, but unless observations continue to validate their claims, the branch disappears entirely. If the new idea is validated, the entire scientific community accepts the idea and jumps on the train. Using this objective and evidence-based method, science has been our one and only way of making discoveries about the world.

To me, humbly and slowly approaching the truth by studying the world is better than having a faith-based belief that you already know the truth. Which one sounds better to you?

- Evan

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Inerrant Errors, Infallible Fallacies

At the center of Christianity sits the Bible. This book is said to be instructions from a non-physical, supremely omnipotent, and perfectly good being - God - on how to live and get into Heaven. Heaven is a place of happiness and bliss that, if you follow God’s commands, you will go to after you’re dead. It also includes stories on how the universe was made, why humans are innately evil (as God says they are), and many stories of humans and their dealings with God, back when he used to show himself all the time. This book cannot contain errors, because if it did, it couldn’t be the word of an omnipotent being.

This book has glaring errors. There are scientific errors, historical errors, conflicting accounts of events, contradicting statements on right/wrong, contradicting statements on the nature of God, accounts of acts sanctified by God that are immoral today, and in general a lot of strange passages that don’t seem to belong in a perfect book. About half of the contradictions I have used here are taken from The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, which is an invaluable source for this stuff.

Jesus himself states that religious laws are not absolute:

Scientific errors:
  • Lev. 11:6 states rabbits chew their cud
  • Lev. 11:20-23 talks about four-legged insects, including grasshoppers
  • 1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalm 93:1 states that the Earth is immobile, but not only does in revolve around the sun, it is gravitationally influenced by other bodies
  • Genesis 1: 1) states that the Earth was created from the beginning of the universe, when in fact the Earth formed 9.5 billion years after the beginning of our universe. 2) God creates light before he makes light-producing objects. 3) “night” and “day” existed before there was a sun to mark them.
Historical errors:
  • no flood ever happened: Egypt had a flourishing civilization, starting long before Noah, and it was never interrupted by a flood
  • there were a multitude of Egyptian scholars a the time of God’s ten curses on the Egyptians. You’d think someone would’ve mentioned raining frogs, devastating plagues, or all of the nation’s firstborn sons dying
  • Daniel 5 states that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was succeeded on the throne by his son, Belshazzar. but historians tell us that Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and was never king.
  • the family lines of the Bible add up to an Earth that is about 6,000 years old. This is inconsistent with everything we know about the universe. Chemistry, physics, biology, geology, astronomy - all these fields tell us this isn’t true.
Contradictory accounts:
  • there are two differing genesis accounts: one where the animals were created first, then the first man and woman created simultaneously (Gen. 1:25-27), and a second where man was created first, then the animals, then the woman from the man’s rib (Gen. 2:18-22)
  • differing accounts of where Jesus first appeared to the eleven disciples after the resurrection: Matthew 28:16 says on top of a mountain in Galilee, while Mark 16:14, Luke 24:33-37, and John 20:19 state that it was in a room in Jerusalem.
  • when did Jesus ascend into Heaven after the resurrection? On the day of his resurrection: Luke 24:1-51, Mark 16:9-19. At least 8 days after the resurrection: John 20:26. “Many” days after the resurrection: Acts 13:31. 40 days after the resurrection: Acts 1:2-3, 9
  • who buried Jesus? Joseph of Arimathea: Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:43-46, Luke 23:50-53. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus: John 19:38-42. The Jews and their rulers: Acts 13:27-29
  • two very conflicting genealogies of Jesus: Mark 1:6-16 and Luke 3:21-31
  • I have also posted a video in the links on the right of the page about the many glaring contradictions between the Four Gospels’ account of Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection.
The nature of God:Morals:Immorality of God:
  • Story of Jephthah, Judges 11: Jephthah asks God for military victory, and in return Jephthah promises to kill whoever comes out of his house first to greet him when he returns, and offer the body up to God (trade military victory for human sacrifice). God accepts his deal, and helps Jephthah commit a “great slaughter.” Jephthah then goes home and sacrifices his daughter.
  • Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19: God basically nukes two cities. Surely there were innocent children? He also chooses Lot and his family to be allowed to escape before the nuking, because they are good and should not be killed. But then Lot’s wife turns back to look at the destruction, and gets turned into a pillar of salt, and Lot himself gets drunk in a cave and impregnates his two daughters.
One flaw is all it takes to stop something from being inerrant. Here I have listed only a fraction of them. To see more, I highly recommend visiting The Skeptic's Annotated Bible.

- Evan