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This Week in Stupidity 31 May 2009

Posted by Jessa in Religion, Science, This Week in Stupidity.
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Today’s Theme: Moronic arguments purporting to refute evolution

Before we begin, I should note that there is a possibility that Poe’s Law is in effect. I am leaning towards believing that these people are not Poes, given that one of the examples comes from a person that goes by the name “supersport”, who has been spewing forth ridiculous statements like these all over the internet for quite a while. So s/he is either really that ignorant, or is the best Poe ever. Either way, I’m going to treat them as serious, because I know that there are at least a few people out there who would seriously make these kinds of arguments. So, on to the show!

Gem #1, we don’t constantly drool, therefore God exists:

Ok, I have an Evolution Challenge for you. Make your mouth produce a bunch of spit, let it dribble down your face and time how long it is before you simply have to wipe it off. Go ahead; try it! I promise you it won’t be very long. It’s extremely uncomfortable to have it sit there.

Think about the babies in your life. Have you ever thought about the fact that they stop drooling after the first couple years of life? Have you ever imagined what life would be like if we didn’t stop? Some, sadly, know what this is like. Children with cerebral palsy that don’t stop drooling or those that begin drooling due to loss of facial muscle control know the horrors of this. Have you had to endure watching people stare at your parent or child as they experience this humiliating social embarrassment? Have you tried to alleviate the irritating sores that develop from skin being constantly wet? Have you tried to keep them in presentable clothing when saliva keeps staining their clothes?

What evolutionary advantage is there to developing the oral neuromuscular control at age 18-24 months? What if drooling, the default condition at birth, was the way our lives always are? How would you like to date, make love, run a business meeting, ride horses, grocery shop and take care of kids while drooling? How cool would you feel driving your fancy car down the road with sunglasses and drool? How would your wedding go with everyone trying to be discrete with their designer drool cloths or bibs?

The human body is designed to give us dignity. These specific designs and abilities point to a Creator who cares about even whether we are embarrassed or not. There’s no evolutionary advantage to not drooling. It’s the gift of dignity.

So this person spends several paragraphs giving examples of why drooling might be evolutionarily disadvantageous, yet then claims there’s no reason why not drooling is evolutionarily advantageous?  It’s all just about the fact that God doesn’t want us to look undignified?

Onto gem #2, by the über-troll supersport:

So moms are everywhere in nature. Females often go to great lengths to feed, save, and protect their young. Many construct homes and shelters…(all without knowing/understanding she’s even pregnant) and do so with great care and attention to detail.

So I’ve got two questions about this:

1) What is the evolutionary advantage of mothers doing everything they can to feed/protect their young? And remember, mothers often give food to their young that they might otherwise eat. And going out into the world to look for food is often dangerous — she could be killed looking for food. Wouldn’t there be an advantage to her personally just to forget about the kid and go about her own business of eating and finding a mate? Why the unnecessary risk? Why go to the trouble of building a nest to protect the young? Wouldn’t it be easier just to skip all that? I thought evolution was all about being selfish……….so why do so many animals put others’ needs before themselves? What’s the advantage to that?

2) Why wouldn’t it be an evolutionary advantage for mothers to eat their young? I know it sometimes happens in nature…..but not as a general rule. As a general rule, mothers and fathers very rarely eat their young…even when they’re hungry. But wouldn’t an animal be more likely to breed if it didn’t starve? Mothers should be consuming their offspring everywhere in nature — afterall, it would advantageous getting that extra nourishment.

How do the evolutionists here get around this? Where does this “love” or devotion for child come from? Got a gene you can show me? What’s the evolutionary advantage for all this? And remember — evolution cannot plan ahead.

This is a classic example of misunderstanding what the Theory of Evolution is about.  We are all familiar with the term “survival of the fittest” (which is not strictly true, but too long to get into right now).  What people fail to comprehend is that when scientist talk about “survival”, they’re talking about reproductive survival.  It doesn’t matter if a mother lives to a ripe old age through starving/eating her babies – if she dies without leaving offspring, her genetic information dies with her.  So any propensity to behave in a selfish manner would have died out quickly.  Mothers with altruistic behavior, who care for their offspring until they’re mature enough to survive on their own and reproduce, will pass on their altruistic behavior through successive generations.  It’s not difficult to see how altruism towards offspring might become prevalent in a species, assuming you’re not willfully ignorant.

H/T: PZ

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Bill Maher Nails It 03 May 2009

Posted by Jessa in Humor, Religion, Science.
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On last Friday’s episode of his show Real Time, Bill Maher urges Creationists to put their money where their mouth is:

Absolutely.

If you believe that evolution is untrue, you’ll stay away from modern medicine, since it is based on the theory of evolution.  Don’t rail as loudly as you can against science and then scurry to the doctor or pharmacy when you get the sniffles.

Just Nisbet Being Nisbet 30 Mar 2009

Posted by Jessa in Atheism, Religion, Science.
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Poor Matt Nisbet.  He still doesn’t get it.

First off, he wags his finger at Richard Dawkins for sharing his opinion on religion:

Dawkins, for example, argues as a scientist that religion is comparable to a mental virus or “meme” that can be explained through evolution, that religious believers are delusional, and that in contrast, atheists are representative of a healthy, independent, and pro-science mind. In making these claims, not only does Dawkins use his authority as the “Oxford University Professor of the Public Understanding of Science” to denigrate various social groups, but he gives resonance to the false narrative of social conservatives that the scientific establishment has an anti-religion agenda.

How dare Richard Dawkins speak an opinion about anything other than science!  It’s not like there’s some sort of clash between science and religion.  Oh wait, there is.

The whole NOMA thing doesn’t work.  Religion has tons to say about things that are within the “science magesterium”, and scientists have every right (and, I might add, an obligation) to push back at statements that flatly contradict scientific observations.  And the people who think that “the scientific establishment has an anti-religion agenda” have had that belief cemented into them long before Dawkins came along.

And then he goes off about Expelled, and how awful it was for the cause of science:

The conflict narrative is powerfully employed in the 2008 anti-evolution documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. By relying almost exclusively on interviews with outspoken atheist scientists such as Dawkins and the blogger PZ Myers, Expelled reinforces the false impression that evolution and faith are inherently incompatible and that scientists are openly hostile to religion. In the film, the comedic actor Ben Stein plays the role of a conservative Michael Moore, taking viewers on an investigative journey into the realm of “Big Science,” an institution where Stein concludes that “scientists are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.”

[snip]

One leading example from the film is an interview with Myers, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris, and author of the Pharyngula blog. Myers’ comments in the film reflect much of the content of his blog, which is estimated to receive over a 1 million readers per month. Interviewed in his laboratory, against a backdrop of microscopes and scientific equipment, Myers offers the following view of religion (see YouTube clip):

Religion is naiveté that gives some people comfort and we don’t want to take it away from them. It’s like knitting, people like to knit. We are not going to take their knitting needles away, we are not going to take away their churches, but we have to get it to a place where religion is treated at a level that it should be treated. That is something fun that people get together and do on the weekend, and really doesn’t affect their life as much as it has been so far.

In a follow up, when prompted to discuss how he believes this goal might be accomplished, Myers offers a line of reasoning that reflects the deficit model paradigm, arguing that science literacy is in direct conflict with religious belief:

Greater science literacy, which is going to lead to the erosion of religion, and then we will get this nice positive feedback mechanism going where as religion slowly fades away we will get more and more science to replace it, and that will displace more and more religion which will allow more and more science in and we will eventually get to that point where religion has taken that appropriate place as a side dish rather than a main course.

How quickly Matt forgets.  Dawkins and Myers were duped into talking about religion during their interviews.  They were told that the film was about the intersection of science and religion, so it’s not as if their opinions about religion were unsolicited.  I’m sure that, if asked only about science, they could probably manage not to veer off into an anti-religious screed.  Matt apparently thinks that they are incapable of  refraining from unsolicited statements about religion.

So how, exactly, are people like Dawkins and Myers supposed to act in Nisbet-world?  Are they just supposed to sit idly by as people try to push religion into science?  Are they supposed to act like it’s okay for people to say that the earth is 6000 years old?  That humans and dinosaurs co-existed?  That evolution is false?

Evolution 21 Feb 2009

Posted by Jessa in Science.
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One problem I have noticed when discussing the Theory of Evolution with people is that I find that many people have serious misconceptions about what the theory actually says, and what it doesn’t say.  Does it say that a monkey can morph into a human?  Does it say that dogs can give birth to cats?   Why aren’t there crocoducks?

For those who might be interested in a very simple primer on evolution and misconceptions about it, watch the video below.  Yeah, I know it’s 10 minutes long, but it’s educational and amusing.

Andrew Wakefield: Faking His Data? 11 Feb 2009

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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Even if you might not know Andrew Wakefield by name, chances are you have heard of his work. He is the man who almost single-handedly started the current anti-vaccination scare.

A brief history: In 1998, he published a paper in the British medical journal The Lancet that claimed to have discovered a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. The study caused a sensation among parents of autistic children, and has led to a dramatic decrease in childhood vaccination in England:

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

The “herd immunity” is the important part.  In any population, there are some individuals who cannot be vaccinated for a variety of reasons.  These people rely on high vaccination rates among their neighbors to keep the disease from spreading among a population and ultimately to them.  When vaccination rates fall too low, this “herd immunity” disappears, and the disease reappears.  Unfortunately, such an outcome has occurred:

Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.

The worst part about this is that Andrew Wakefield may have faked his data:

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

If this is true, it’s unconscionable and horrifying.

For a more detailed description of events, go here.

This Blog Post is Not Chemical-Free 07 Dec 2008

Posted by Jessa in Science.
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As a scientist, one of the things that really annoys me is the misappropriation of scientific terms.  The twisted definitions are most frequently used by advertisers to dupe the unsuspecting public into believing that their product is somehow better than the other stuff out there.

One of these words is “chemical”.  So much effort has been poured into making the word “chemical” synonymous with “poison” that companies are now advertising their products as “100% chemical-free”.  Seriously.

And they are getting away with it.  After receiving complaints about a Miracle-Gro ad that states that its product is “100% chemical-free”,  the agency that regulates advertising in the UK did nothing, stating:

“When there is a colloquial understanding of a word, we can take this into account when reaching our decision. In this case, we believe that most viewers are likely to understand the term ‘organic’ as meaning no man-made chemicals have been used to manufacture, or are present in this product. For this reason, we believe that most viewers are unlikely to be misled by the claim.”

So what they’re saying is that it’s okay to lie in an advertisement because most of the public doesn’t know the actual definition of “chemical”.

Bullshit.  Scientific terms don’t get re-defined by majority vote.  If people are too uninformed or gullible to realize that all matter is made up entirely of chemicals (and therefore no product is any less than 100% “chemical”), that’s their problem.  They need to be educated.

To that end, I’m glad to see that the Royal Society of Chemistry is working to take back the word “chemical”.  They’re offering £1 million (~$2.3 million) to the first person who can present an actual chemical-free product to them.

I predict that their money is safe.

MC Hawking 21 Sep 2008

Posted by Jessa in Science.
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T-Minus 3 Hours 09 Sep 2008

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Until we all die.  But probably not.

Why?  Because the LHC is going live tonight at 3:30 ET.  To get an idea of why scientists are not worried that everyone will get sucked into a mini black hole, go here.

I fully expect to still be alive to get up and go to work tomorrow.  Not quite sure whether that’s a good or bad thing.

The Evolution Vs. Creationism Debate 01 Sep 2008

Posted by Jessa in Religion, Science.
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2 comments

In cartoon form.

Evolution:

Creationism:

Want to guess how it ends? Click to find out. (Link removed because the site no longer exists.  Sorry!)

Know Your Logical Fallacies 20 Jul 2008

Posted by Jessa in Religion, Science.
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Today’s lesson: post hoc ergo propter hoc

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (translation: “after this, therefore because of this”), often shortened to just “post hoc“, is an attempt to apply a cause and effect relationship to two events that happen in temporal succession.  This fallacy is generally expressed as:

X happened, then Y happened.
Therefore, X caused Y (or Y was caused by X)

Here’s a example, straight from my inbox:

DID YOU KNOW THESE FACTS?
I SURE DIDNT TILL NOW
Death is certain but the Bible speaks about untimely death!
Make a personal reflection about this…..
Very interesting, read until the end…..

It is written in the Bible (Galatians 6:7):
‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sow,that shall he also reap.

Here are some men and women who mocked God :

John Lennon (Singer):
Some years before, during his interview with an American Magazine, he said: ‘Christianity will end, it will disappear. I do not have to argue about that. I am certain. Jesus was ok, but his subjects were too simple, today we are more famous than Him’ (1966).

Lennon, after saying that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, was shot six times.

Tancredo Neves (President of Brazil ):
During the Presidential campaign, he said if he got 500,000 votes from his party, not even God would remove him from Presidency.

Sure he got the votes, but he got sick a day before being made President, then he died.

Cazuza (Bi-sexual Brazilian composer, singer and poet):
During A show in Canecio ( Rio de Janeiro ),while smoking his cigarette, he puffed out some smoke into the air and said:’God, that’s for you.’

He died at the age of 32 of LUNG CANCER in a horrible manner.

The man who built the Titanic
After the construction of Titanic, a reporter asked him how safe the Titanic would be. With an ironic tone he said: ‘Not even God can sink it’

The result: I think you all know what happened to the Titanic

Marilyn Monroe (Actress)
She was visited by Billy Graham during a presentation of a show. He said the Spirit of God had sent him to preach to her. After hearing what the Preacher had to say, she said: ‘I don’t need your Jesus’.

A week later, she was found dead in her apartment

Bon Scott (Singer)
The ex-vocalist of the AC/DC. On one of his 1979 songs he sang: ‘Don’t stop me; I’m going down all the way, down the highway to hell’.

On the 19th of February 1980, Bon Scott was found dead, he had been choked by his own vomit.

Campinas (IN 2005)
In Campinas , Brazil a group of friends, drunk, went to pick up a friend….. The mother accompanied her to the car and was so worried about the drunkenness of her friends and she said to the daughter holding her hand, who was already seated in the car: ‘My Daughter, Go With God And May He Protect You.’ She responded: ‘Only If He (God) Travels In The Trunk, Cause Inside Here…..It’s Already Full ‘

Hours later, news came by that they had been involved in a fatal accident, everyone had died, the car could not be recognized what type of car it had been, but surprisingly, the trunk was intact. The police said there was no way the trunk could have remained intact. To their surprise, inside the trunk was a crate of eggs, none was broken

Christine Hewitt (Jamaican Journalist and entertainer)
said the Bible (Word of God) was the worst book ever written.

In June 2006 she was found burnt beyond recognition in her motor vehicle.

Many more important people have forgotten that there is no other name that was given so much authority as the name of Jesus.

Many have died, but only Jesus died and rose again, and he is still alive.

——SNIP——–

See the fallacy?  These people mocked God (X happened), then they died untimely deaths (Y happened).  Therefore, they died untimely deaths because they mocked God (Y was caused by X).

Although the fallacy is pretty easy to spot in this example, sometimes it’s more difficult to see.   A good first step to try to determine if you’ve encountered a post hoc argument is to turn the argument around to see if it holds true.  In this case, the reverse would be:

“You can prevent dying an untimely death by not mocking God.”

Clearly, this doesn’t make sense.  Plenty of people who have died untimely deaths did not mock God.  The connection between the two events has not been established, so it’s a post hoc argument.

It is important to note that not all links between earlier and later events fall into the post hoc fallacy category.  Many scientific hypotheses start out as post hoc ideas.  But the causal relationships outlined in a hypothesis are then supported (or disproven) by evidence from properly-conducted experiments.  If it hasn’t been confirmed by evidence, proceed with skepticism.