Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A question for creationists.

I'm well aware that this blog doesn't yet have a massive readership, but my view count continues to go up quasi-steadily, so I'm going to go ahead and try this and see what I get.

I posed a question today to a YEC I debate with fairly often on Twitter. He gave me a brief and unsatisfying answer and then disappeared before answering my clarifying question. Life happens to us all, and I'm hoping he'll be around later to further refine his answer. Of course, at that point, I may just ask him to do so here.

The following question is for those who believe in a literal Creator, be it old-Earth or young-Earth. It's for those of you that think abiogenesis is simply too improbable to be believed, and the first inklings of life must have been Created, whether or not you believe evolution took over from there.

Two of my recent posts have focused on scientific findings, findings which help to erode the idea that a Creator is necessary at all. They're indirect evidence, I know, but every bit helps. I posited in one of those articles about the logical conclusion of this science, and I'm curious as to how that conclusion would affect the creationist community.

Suppose that tomorrow a revolutionary scientific finding was announced. A scientist has been working in a lab for the past however-many years, and he has managed to get life to form itself. By this I mean, he set up a sterile room, filled it with water, ammonia, methane, perhaps some other simple organic chemicals, flooded it with sunlight, perhaps created artificial tides and tidal pools - in other words, simulated the Earth as we believe it was ~4.5 billion years ago. And in this mishmash of chemistry, water, and light, self-replicating molecules formed, and began spreading. He's held off announcing it, though, and he kept watching, and now, after years of study, these molecules have - all on their own, without any prompting - formed simple pseudo-cells which have begun competing with each other.

In short, he's created brand-new life watched brand new life form, using only simple chemistry and time.

The question, then, is how would this discovery affect you? Would it be a crack in your faith? After all, if it can happen over the course of a few years in a lab, certainly it must be possible over millenia on Earth. Would it destroy your faith, to prove that life literally needs no creator? Or can you think of arguments against it, arguments that you think shows that all of this doesn't prove that a creator is unnecessary?

I'm genuinely curious. This experiment, of course, has not happened yet, but I'm betting that it will, and I don't think it'll be all that long. Harry Lonsdale, a very-wealthy very-atheist has just recently announced that he's going to give someone a rather large grant to attempt this very experiment. What if they succeed? How will you react? What will you say?

Are any creationists willing to play this hypothetical game with me? I'm hoping so.

To all my lovely atheist readers, if you're curious about the answers to this question as well, spread the word. I know it sounds like a cheap plug, but the more creationists we can gather in here, the more answers we can get, and I'm just not that popular yet. Give me a hand, if you can!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Way to go New York!

I just got to watch live as the State of New York passed a bill granting equality to all of it's citizens. It still baffles me that equality needs to be voted on, but make no mistake; this is a good thing. It's going to be a while yet before true, actual equality is achieved, before open homosexuals no longer walk some neighborhoods in fear just for loving who they love, before being gay is just considered to be another trait of a person, like having blue eyes or brown hair.

There'll be setbacks. Cases like this will come up in other states, and they'll be lost. The bigots will have their local victories. But make no mistake. Every day, in every way, they're losing ground. If we keep fighting, and keep educating, and keep showing everyone that no, being gay isn't a horrible disease, eventually we WILL win.

Watching my twitter feed scroll past immediately after the successful vote, and seeing at least one or two all-caps tweets from people I like, loudly proclaiming to the world that they're going to go out and get married now, makes all the battling worthwhile.

A sampling of the joy this decision has brought:

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Creationism being eroded - yes, again.

Yep, it's true. Another of creationism's so-called unanswerable questions has been dealt with.

This one pertains to the gap between unicellular and multicelluar life. Why, they ask, are there no multicelluar organisms with very few cells? The smallest multicellular life we know of starts at about ~100 cells. You obviously can't skip straight from one cell to one hundred. If evolution was true, why this gap? How did life cross this bridge?

Of course, just because there are no organisms with two or ten or whatever cells today doesn't mean there weren't in the past - the opposite is quite obviously true. But now we've got some compelling evidence to show it.

Voila. By applying pressure that selects for multicellular life - in this case centrifugal force - the single celled yeast began clumping together and forming tiny multi-celled organisms.

Objections? Of course there are.

Some will claim that nowhere in nature is centrifugal force going to be a selection factor. This is likely true. But nothing here indicates that the weight of the organism need be the only selection factor that would select for multicelluar arrangements. Even if it were, centrifugal force need not be the only way in which weight can be a selection factor - how about buoyancy, for starters?

There are those who claim that since yeast USED to be a multicellular organism, it's simply retained the traits for being multicellular. Possibly a factor; this may help explain why the trend towards being multicellular occurred as quickly as it did. But it really doesn't matter. What this shows is that life can and does exist in small (>1 <100) groupings. It's viable. You can see that it happens. So why assume that it couldn't have happened in our deep past?

Finally, why do no such organisms exist in nature today? I've never seen a scientist's answer to this question, but I have what I think is a valid hypothesis; there may be some powerful advantage once an organism reaches the ~100 cell marker that allows it to out-compete the smaller multicellular organisms, and therefore drive them to extinction. Perhaps once 100 cells or so are reached, it allows the organism to specialize it's individual cells in certain ways that give it massive advantage, or some such thing. No small multicellular organisms exist in the wild, therefore, because there's no niche for them. They came, existed, and were eliminated by more suitable organisms.

It's like I love to say - unknown does not mean unknowable. As science advances, it leaves creationism - and religion as a whole - less and less of a leg to stand on. And I do so love to watch it advance.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Creationism as a science - evolution as dogma

I've probably written about this topic before. I probably will again, frankly, because it keeps coming up, and to my mind it's part of the more ridiculous of the claims of the Biblical literalists.

First off, something that I know I've dealt with before: Creationism is, by it's own definition, not a scientific field. 'Creation science' is an oxymoron. The very simple reason for this is that science - that which follows the scientific method - never begins with a conclusion. Science never consists of "X is true - so let's prove it'. Rather, it begins with a a question: "Is X true? Let's find out".

The problem with creationism calling itself a science should become immediately obvious. It begins with the unmovable conclusion that the Bible is true, in every sense. Indeed, they tout this as often as they can. From Answers in Genesis' Statement of Faith:

  •  The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
  • By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

The second statement is particularly telling in this regard. If it contradicts scripture, it cannot be true. In what way is this scientific? Science seeks the truth, and attempts to do so without bias. Nothing is sacred. Any scientific theory can be overturned, given sufficient evidence. But here we have a clear statement that no, this cannot be overturned. It's sacred. It's not science.

The opposite, of course, is true of scientific theories - including evolution. Creationists frequently tout Darwin's mistakes and ignorance as evidence against evolution, as though Darwin was an infallible god. In fact, evolutionary theory has itself evolved over the years, as more and more was learned. How is this dogmatic?

Dogma: A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

Darwin could be reasonably called an authority on the topic, at least for his time. But incontrovertibly true? It's changed. It's evolved. It's not absolute; it's a theory that alters to fit the facts as they're discovered. This isn't dogma. It's science.

Comparing the two, it's easy to spot the dogma. And therein lies the problem with the Biblical literalists. It's dogmatic, not scientific. This is why they twist and squirm and bend words to wedge the science to fit into the Bible; if any part of the Bible is proven wrong, the book cannot be 'incontrovertibly true', and their entire worldview collapses. This is why no matter how high the evidence piles, they cannot accept it.

And yet they continue to try to pass off their faith as scientific.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Well, *I* thought it was funny.

Abiogenesis? Yes please!

Throughout religious history faith has been forced to evolve as science advanced. When we learned where lightning and thunder came from, thunder gods became irrelevant. When we discovered the heliocentric model, sun gods went out of style. And so on.

And yet, despite the long-standing tradition of religious belief being outed by science, the trend continues. Today, instead of asking "If there's no Thor, then where's thunder come from, smart guy?" they ask "If there's no God, then how did life come from non-life, cupcake?". They don't like that we have theories. Abiogenesis just doesn't have enough evidence for them - this, in spite of the total lack of evidence for any gods whatsoever. But, I digress.

Science marches on. After more than a decade of work and effort, Craig Venter, an American geneticist, has created the first ever synthetic life form.

Now, don't get super excited or anything. He didn't build an entire self-replicating cell from nothing but ammonia and methane, or anything quite so grandiose. What he did do, however, was create an entire bacterial genome from scratch. From point one. He inserted it into a bacterial 'shell'. The result? A form of life never before seen on this planet, that didn't evolve, and required no gods to create. Synthetic life.

It's not proof positive of abiogenesis, not yet. Doubtless the believers will have their talking points. They'll say it's more evidence that life requires a designer. They'll say it's no proof that a cell can assemble itself from the primordial soup. They'll have arguments I can't even think of - their best 'scientific' minds will no doubt be hard at work dismantling this further evidence for the naturalistic formation of life.

But that doesn't matter. I'll continue making the point that 'unknown' does not mean 'unknowable'. This is another small piece to that puzzle, another dent in the armor of religion. Sooner or later, someone WILL coax non-living organic chemistry into forming an enclosed pseudo-cellular environment, using nothing but the building blocks of life, air, water, light, and time.

When that happens, I expect the fundamentalists to go into collective apoplexy trying to explain it away. Again, they'll have their arguments. But slowly but surely, as the mysteries of life and the universe are unraveled, those arguments are becoming less and less rational, less and less relevant.

Inch by inch, the light of science is pushing back the darkness of religion.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

New York, New York

In New York state, the controversy over legalized same-sex marriage is currently raging. They're within a hair's width of passing it; the vote was expected to come to a head yesterday, but as far as I've been able to determine, it's been delayed - possibly as a play by the GOP to delay the vote until next fall. I'm not 100% sure how it all works.

It seems that one more vote is still needed to make it happen, and it also seems that there are two more GOP senators still sitting on the fence. I have no doubt that the National Organization for Marriage, and other such groups, are leaning on them hard to oppose it, which is why we need to show them just how many people - in New York, America, and around the world - oppose the NO4M and their intolerant message. We need to show them that it's time for equality, and make the case that it needs to happen sooner rather than later. With that in mind, I sent the following email to the two undecided senators. I would urge everyone reading this, regardless of where you live, to do the same. Let's show them that in voting for legalization, they'll have the world behind them.

To: Mark Grisanti grisanti@nysenate.gov
Stephen Saland saland@nysenate.gov

I write to you today not as one of your constituents, but as a resident of the wider world. Your decision cannot affect my vote, as I have none in your election, but I urge to you hear the voices of the people not only in your state, or in your country, but people around the world who are watching the controversy going on in New York with deep interest.

As far as I'm aware, you're both GOP candidates who remain undecided on this important issue. I realize that voting in favour means crossing your party lines, and possibly alienating the more hard-line Republican voters. But I think you're aware that the anti-gay viewpoint is falling by the wayside at a nearly unprecedented rate. The push for civil rights and equality is growing stronger. As I'm sure you're aware, for the first time ever a majority of Americans, according to Gallup, stand in favour of making marriage available to all, without discrimination. This number has risen despite the vocal backlash against it, and will only continue to do so. By casting your votes in favour of granting equal rights to all your citizens, you will be showing your willingness to defend them against intolerance, and you will be shown to have been on the right side of history.

I believe you know that this will happen, sooner or later. As I've said, tolerance is increasing rapidly. I urge you to help make it happen sooner, rather than later. Set an example for the rest of your country. Show them that you care about all Americans, without prejudice about their sexuality.

As a final note, I ask you to look at the track record of my own country. I'm from Canada, born and raised; we legalized same-sex marriage across the nation in 2005, and it has had no adverse impact. Our society has not crumbled. Marriage has not been undermined. We have not descended into anarchy. We've merely extended equal rights to all of our citizens, and we're better off for it.

Please. I, and a growing majority of the citizens of your country and the world, urge you to do the right thing.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

More goodness from Twitter

The following began it's life as a Long Tweet, written by Atheist Shrew. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, and felt that the message it had to tell about the dangers of following religion over science was so compelling it had to be spread. I asked for and received permission to re-post it here.

Here, again, is my initial response to Peter Kreeft's arguments for god which you again, linked me to: http://tinypaste.com/fb5a3

You can give me all the evidences for "god" that you want but if they are the same tired ones that I have read for DECADES (and at one time used as a former apologist for the Christian faith), they are going to come up empty. They are logically unsound and, no, I'm not going to waste my time dissecting them for you beyond what I've already done. You have a brain; use it.

Besides, the point is that I'm not saying that I *know* that there is no god. I'm an "agnostic atheist" (as most atheists that I know or have heard are, including Richard Dawkins, though we choose to just go with "atheist" for simplicity's sake). We aren't claiming, "We know with certainty there is no god!" We are only saying that we reject the claims of others that there *is* a god due to lack of evidence. There might very well be a god. There might also be universe creating invisible pink pixies but until I see direct evidence of them, I'm not going to believe they exist or include them in my worldview. The same goes for god. And it is dangerous and harmful to assert there is a god without evidence and then assert you know what he/she/it wants you to do and not do!

You claim that the universe is clear evidence for god. I used to say the same thing for years and years but I've since come to the realization that it simply isn't. Once upon a time, people thought earthquakes or lightning were clear evidences of a supernatural deity because such events defied their understanding of the natural world. Since that time we've come to understand that these occur through normal, natural processes (e.g., plate tectonics) that are not "supernatural" in the least. But religious people seem to never learn their lesson and keep playing this game. For example, I notice that you frequently spout the "Nothing from nothing doesn't make sense so something must have created it" argument. This seems to be a good argument on the surface for myopic thinkers (though it is far too overly simplistic) but we are increasingly discovering that it might not be so far-fetched. For example, you do realize, don't you, that no true "physical" things exists, at least not in the way that we perceive them to be physical? Everything is 100% energy. Furthermore, science is increasingly coming to the conclusion that the sum total of all the energy in the universe is a sum total of ZERO. Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about. Now add to these ideas such things as (a) the fact that we KNOW that the complex things that we see today developed over time from extremely simple one (that is a basic natural process), (b) the same laws of cause and effect do not appear to apply on the quantum level, and (c) the laws of space and time may not have existed prior to the universe's current state and, therefore, the universe could be "infinite" without "infinite regress" problems. The *necessity* of there being a god to explain everything becomes less and less, well, necessary.

But even with all of this, the answer at this point is still largely "we don't know." But there *are* a multitude of possibilities for the existence of the universe as we currently know it which do NOT necessitate a god. And we have barely begun to scratch the surface on many of these scientific issues.

But so many religious people seem to have a real problem with saying "I don't know" and they use that as a justification for their absurd and unfounded beliefs. There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't know" so long as it leads us to further inquiry rather than jumping to supernatural conclusions. "I don't know" should not lead us to say "Therefore god." "I don't know" should lead us to "I don't know, so let's investigate more."

Let me touch briefly on the exorcism issue that you brought up. This is one of the many, many examples of how dangerous and harmful superstitious religious beliefs can be (and one of the reasons I'm now so outspoken against religion). There is zero evidence that demon possession takes place and, furthermore, there is zero evidence that demons exist in the first place. What were once mistaken for demon-possessions (due to ignorance of natural processes) were actually such things as mental illness and epilepsy. Go look up stories of people who are schizophrenic and some of the ways they behave looks an awful lot like "demon possession" doesn't it? What's more is that I have experience with this issue. My younger brother began exhibiting unusual behavior when he was about 17 years old which my numbskull parents mistook for "demon possession" (and much of his behavior *was* very reminiscent of what was traditionally described as possession by demons). So rather than taking him to a doctor, they took him to various pastors and put him through numerous mentally and physically tortuous exorcism rituals. When none of that nonsense worked, they eventually did the *right* thing and took him to doctors. My brother was diagnosed with a severe bi-polar disorder which (due to the fragile nature of the mental processes of the brain) was believed to have been significantly exacerbated by the inane "exorcisms" my superstitious parents put him through. My brother is now completely mentally FUCKED for life now with little if any hope of every living anything resembling a normal life. He still lives with my dad at the age of 41 and he continues to be tormented with religious issues. He has tried to commit suicide on numerous occasions. His brain is so screwed up now thanks to religion that they can't get him on a proper medication; all those that he has tried have either had a severely negative impact (making his behavior even more erratic) or turn him into a mental "zombie." What's interesting is that I have several friends who are also bi-polar but they have been able to cope with this mental illness because they did NOT resort to barbaric, superstitious exorcism rituals but instead got help from science. Their lives are not free from problems, but they are largely happy and balanced.

And don't give me your horseshit stories about "levitation" as evidence for exorcisms as I read in one of your earlier tweets. I, and others who are rational, need more than people's "stories" (imagined, made up, dreamt or otherwise) as evidence for such unfounded baloney. You need to seriously get into reality and stop screwing up gullible or impressionable people's minds and lives with such utter nonsense.

By the way, I've continued to watch the "To Hell and Back" video as I have time and I'm truly enjoying it. It's one of THE most ham-fisted attempts at providing "evidence" for Christianity. For example, I love how they discount the NDEs that some people have (non-Christians and atheists who *don't* see hell in their NDE) saying they are deceptive but they treat as "gospel truth" those NDEs that agree with their pre-conceived notions. And the two stories at the beginning are PRICELESS. Absolutely childish, silly and nonsensical from start to finish. I'm going to have my wife and daughter watch them as they'll get a kick out of them.

As I've said in previous messages, I realize that I'm not going to convince you. You have drunk the kool-aid far too deeply. I don't mean that so much in that you have become "brainwashed" (though there is always some element of that with delusional, superstitious belief and you seem to have quite a bit of that). I mean it more in that you have already committed your life and livelihood to religious practice (by becoming a priest and no doubt devoting numerous years of study and preparation prior to that). You are literally *invested* in this belief and pretty much HAVE to find a way to believe it in order to justify the decisions you have made in your life. That's going to make it difficult for you to escape superstitious, delusional thinking, but there's always hope. For myself, I'm just glad that I came to realize what a load of hog-balls Christianity was before I fully sunk myself into working as a missionary (which I was working through college to become). I also almost didn't marry my beautiful wife and best friend (who has been with me for the past 23 years) due to a strong "conviction" that god wanted me to do otherwise. What a mistake that would have been. I wonder what things *you* have given up unnecessarily for this unsupported, childish, and superstitious belief that you hold?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A brief note on Prop 8

Tomorrow, apparently, California is again voting on a Prop 8 issue. The idea is that since one of the judges who ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional is a gay man, he has a bias on the issue and should have removed himself from the vote.

Well. If we're going to do that, maybe we should remove all the Christian judges from the vote as well. After all, their Biblical views (i.e., that homosexuality is an abomination) undoubtedly give them a bias on the issue as well.

I don't usually resort to personal comments on issues like this, but this one deserves it. These people, pushing an unconstitutional law on the basis of an absurd claim, are assholes. Fuck 'em. I hope they're roundly defeated tomorrow.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Why abortion isn't morally wrong

From the perspective of one who is very scientifically minded.

I am, of course, an atheist; this means that I do not believe in the existence of an immortal soul. This is, of course, very important in this debate, and it's the reason why I believe that the majority of the anti-abortion movement is based on religious reasons.

The religious argument against abortion is simple; they believe that at the moment of conception, the now-fused cells are invested with the soul, and become a human being in the eyes of their god. I'll give the argument this much; it's internally consistent with the rest of their superstitions.

I think I overuse semicolons.

For those of us who do reject the existence of the soul - and science must do so, for no evidence of it's existence has ever been presented - the question is less straightforward. When does a fetus become a person? What, for that matter, makes a person in the first place?

I wish to state for the record, unambiguously, that I agree with the right of a woman to choose, regardless of the circumstances. It's her body, and while the fetus remains inside her, completely dependent upon her body for it's life, I don't get to decide. I will be leaving these arguments by the wayside in the following, but I do believe in them.

That being said, we return to the question; what makes a person a person? The only serious difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom is our minds; our intellect, consciousness, and sentience. If there is no soul, where do such things come from? In the eyes of science, it's all biochemistry. I'm nobody's idea of a biochemist, but it's widely accepted that the makeup of an individual personality, as well as memory itself, is stored in the synapses, the connections between brain cells. Each cell is connected to a number of other cells; the more connections, the more complexity, and the more powerful the brain. This, then, is what makes us people, what makes us individuals. The specific synaptic connections that we have are unique, which is why we, as individuals, are unique. In short, it's our complex brains that give us those distinguishing traits from the rest of the animals.

Fetal brains, of course, do not develop instantly. This is the crux of my argument here. Looking at BrainMind, it says under the heading "FETAL BRAIN-BEHAVIOR AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT":

Cognition has been inferred based on alterations in fetal heart rate (FHR) and habituation to airborne sound, response-declines to vibroacoustic stimuli, and what appears to be neonatal preferences for the maternal voice as well as melodies and stories presented up to six weeks prior to birth

Take note of that timeline; six weeks prior to birth. Halfway through the seventh month. That's really late, as only up to one percent of all abortions are performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy (citations [here] and [here]. In fact, going back to the first paragraph of the BrainMind article:

...by the 25th week demonstrates stimulus-induced heart rate accelerations.

This is the very first indication of anything beyond simple autonomic responses, the first time that an outside stimulus can be shown to affect a fetus in any way at all... and it doesn't begin until 25 weeks.

But does some form of consciousness, however rudimentary, begin before this? We're back to brain structures and synapses, again. The cerebral cortex is widely considered to be the site of the higher-brain functions. The fetal brain begins differentiating in the second month, but the cerebral cortex does not come into it's own until it separates into it's two lobes - during the sixth month.

So, in short, we have development of the higher brain coming into it's own at six months, and true proof of cognition coming at seven and a half months, both well after the 20 weeks that the majority of abortions are performed. The majority of those performed after this date are, sadly, performed on wanted babies and done for medically necessary reasons.

I realize that that was long, and full of jargon, but it needs to be said. A fetus does not have a brain that's well developed enough to argue that you're killing a person, a human being. It's a clump of cells. It has the potential to become a human being, certainly, this is irrelevant. Destroying a clump of cells, no matter the potential, cannot be called murder. It can't be murdered if it's not a person yet.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Growing up as a species

When we're very young, we believe anything we're told to. We're wired to do so; we need to learn the skills and habits that have proven useful in survival, so we start out very impressionable. Most of us no longer live in an environment where selective pressure is so strong, but the patterns remain. And so, for our first years, we learn very quickly, easily, and accept just about anything.

But as we grow older, we leave this tendency behind. We start questioning the things we're told, determining for ourselves what's true and what isn't; the lack of this skill at questioning - skepticism, if you will - is called gullibility. It's a necessary part of our growth that we stop believing whatever we're told, lest we spend all our days buying bridges.

At the same time, our increasing maturity enables us to accept harder and harder truths without becoming overloaded. We've all heard stories of families who tell a child, after a beloved pet has died, that he ran away. He's safe, he's fine, he's just not here anymore. It's a story told with the realization that one day the truth will come out, but when it does, the child will be older and better able to deal with reality.

These two things go hand in hand. We tell children comforting lies, to avoid stressing them too much before they're ready for it, and with the full expectation that when they grow up, they will see these lies for what they are, and move past them.

I believe that much the same can be said of humanity as a whole. If we look at ourselves, across our ~2 million year history, I think many parallels can be found. The scenario I've outlined above is of particular poignancy for me, as a very active atheist, when it's put parallel to religion.

In our beginnings, when we were first coming to sentience, the world was a scary place. We developed the ability to think about things, mull them over, long before we developed any tools to find out what they actually were. Thunder was terrifying. Fire could kill. People got sick and died, for no apparent reason. Herds would move, or change their patterns, or plants wouldn't grow, or the nets wouldn't be full, and a lean winter would be had by all. But why? What could cause these things? We had, at the time, no way of knowing. And so, like children, we made things up.

We needed to make sense of our lives, and of the world around us, because to do otherwise was to be overwhelmed with fear and grief. We needed comfort. And this, I believe, is how the concept of religion came to be. The people needed answers, and so particularly creative individuals from whatever culture stepped forward, and told stories. They explained why the sky was crashing. There was a huge, all-powerful thing up there, and he was mad; but that's okay! We can make him happy, and when he's happy, he'll be nice to us. The stories from there, obviously, grew and merged and morphed, until we have the various pantheons of history.

As an aside, I'm convinced this is why the majority of religions throughout history have been polytheistic. Since there were so many things to try to explain, it only makes sense that each category will be headed by a god of it's own.

But then we started to grow up. We started looking around us and noticing inconsistencies. We developed tools, we took measurements, we weighed and built and scoured our world for data. And like children beginning on the path to skepticism (questioning, for example, how Santa could possible visit all the houses in the world in a single night), we began to wonder.

We, as a species, have reached this point. More and more of us are beginning to look, to see, to learn, to ask questions, to stop accepting things dogmatically. It's a hard enough process for a child to let go of treasured beliefs in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny; how much harder is it for an entire people to let go of cherished beliefs in gods?

This is particularly true in terms of the comfort aspect of it all. Letting go of the belief that after we die we'll go to a safe, wonderful place forever. That our departed loved ones are there already, happy, waiting for us, eager to greet us with open arms. That there is an eternal, all-powerful being who loves us and wants nothing more than to free us from suffering. It's like a security blanket for the psyche. It's hard to let something like that go.

We're ready to step into adulthood, I think. We have the knowledge, now, that the universe isn't such a scary place. We have the maturity, as a species, to be able to look at what's actually out there, to see the truths, and to not be overwhelmed by them. And with the ability to do these things comes the responsibility to do them. As Greta Christina has said, I care that my beliefs be true.

The time is coming. Atheism, skepticism, and evidence-based beliefs are on a rapid rise, on a level and with a speed unprecedented on this planet. We're growing up. I hope to see it happen in my lifetime that religious belief is discarded by humanity as a whole just as most individuals discard the comforting lies of their childhood. I think it's got a good chance of happening, and I'm working to hasten it.

I believe that leaving behind superstition and woo, and embracing reason and evidence and logic, and putting a much greater portion of our resources towards science and discovery and education will lead us, humanity, into a new renaissance. If we can just get through these difficult years, decades, and make it to maturity, I think we can become something great.

Even though I won't see it all happen, because I will have long ceased to exist, I take a great sense of pride and accomplishment that I will have, in some tiny way, contributed to our advance as a species, and to the making of a better way of life for my own descendants and those of everyone around me.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Tales from a former creationist

First-ever guest post. You might be tempted to think people are -reading- this thing. Many thanks to @CommonDescent.

I talk with some pretty interesting people on twitter. One of these is the author of this post, who holds a degree in biology and evolutionary theory and is now a science teacher. I follow a number of science-educated types, and love seeing the perspective of those who are more learned on the topic than I am.

So imagine my surprise when I saw Common Descent say that he had, in the fairly recent past, been a staunch creationist. The topic was too good to pass up; as I've said before, I have a lot of trouble understanding the mindset, so the chance to quiz someone who can speak my language seemed like gold. We had a brief conversation, and he agreed to write up his experiences in discarding creationism for science. Without further ado, then:

The evolution / creationism debate has been of great interest to me for several years now. I feel that I have a unique perspective on it because I’ve been on both sides. As pro-evolution as I am now, there was a time when I was just as adamantly against it. The magnitude of a change like this is interesting to some people, and that’s why I’m writing this blog post. I met the author of this blog on Twitter, where I routinely tweet about creationism and occasionally debate the topic. I mentioned how I used to be a creationist on there and was asked to write about it in more detail. So here’s my story.

I’ll start out by describing what I used to be. I first learned of evolution my junior year of high school, in AP biology. Up until then I hadn’t thought much about it, but I held the view that it wasn’t true. My family never discussed the issue, but we went to a fundamentalist church that held a literal view of the bible. The church itself never mentioned the issue from the pulpit but sometimes it would come up in bible class. I had one teacher in particular who told us about the Flood, creation, and how it all could have happened. We were always told that it was literally true. So that was my foundation heading into biology class.

I remember being fascinated with natural selection when I first learned about it, because it was so simple. It made so much sense and also explained a lot of things. This got me more interested in evolution, even though I thought it was wrong. Natural selection intrigued me to do more research on evolution. Somehow I ended up on the website of Answers in Genesis, the headquarters for young-earth creationism. I was amazed that they had an answer for every topic imaginable. I began reading through their archives until I felt that I had a good grasp on things. AiG shaped my views on evolution, astronomy, geology, and many other scientific topics. They made things seem easily explainable, and I was comfortable with their teachings. My senior year of high school, I did an informative speech on creation/evolution. I presented both sides fairly, but I definitely had a personal opinion.

This takes me up to college. I remember repeating some of the common creationist talking points. I discussed with a friend how microevolution is obvious, but species don’t change to other species. I believed that God created genetic diversity that accumulated mutations over time (creationists refer to “kinds” here). I told people that creationists and evolutionists all used the same data, but just interpreted it differently. I felt superior when textbooks referred to any uncertainty as to how life began. I was certain, even if they weren’t.

But college was when I began to change. I started to test ideas that I had been taught at home. If they were still good, I’d keep them. If they weren’t, I’d make my own opinions. This started with politics but eventually spread to religion, and thus, creationism. Shortly before college, I read Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker”, mainly because it was about natural selection and that topic had interested me so much. The book didn’t change my mind, but there were parts of it that made a lot of sense to me. One example is when he explains that a partial structure is better than anything less than it. Half a wing is better than 40% of a wing. Creationists often ask “what good is half an eye?” or something to that effect. That became a non-issue for me.

To get to the point, the way that I left creationism was through opening my mind and doing a lot of reading. My willingness to accept that I might be wrong led to me realizing that I actually was wrong. In addition to Dawkins, here are three more books that really helped me to understand that evolution is true: “Finding Darwin’s God” by Ken Miller, “Evolution: the Triumph of an Idea” by Carl Zimmer, and my evolution textbook written by Doug Futuyma. The textbook’s excellent description of transitional forms and their fossil evidence was the one moment when it finally clicked for me: all of this is true. It makes too much sense not to be. There are also some good websites for learning evolution, but Wikipedia alone is enough to make the case.

I want to finish with a few points. First, how did this affect my view of the bible? As I started to suspect that evolution was true, I began to try to twist the story of Genesis to include the science. I said that maybe Noah’s Flood was localized. I believed that Adam and Eve were the first humans that God gave a soul, and that the Genesis story picked up from there. But over time, I realized that it was too hard to make everything fit. If one side (science) is literally, objectively true and the other side (the Bible) can be interpreted many different ways, then it’s clear which side needs to change. When the Bible doesn’t match science, that’s the Bible’s problem. People who want to continue to follow the Bible have to decide for themselves how to reconcile that.

Lastly, a word to both sides. To those who accept evolution: Don’t give up on creationists. I spent a long time (too long, maybe) describing what I used to believe to show that it is indeed possible for someone that far in can still change. A majority of creationists will never change. But a few will. So don’t just assume they’re a lost cause. To creationists: don’t be afraid of the evidence. Truly look into it and read about it. If you want to be a creationist that’s your choice. Just don’t make it an uninformed decision. I’m doing fine after accepting evolution. I haven’t lost my morals or started acting like an animal or anything like that. I simply understand how the world works a little better. Keep an open mind and you may be surprised at what enters it: the truth. When you learn the reality of evolution you can then give up all the mental backflips required for creationism. It really does feel good to accept things as they really are.

Current status of the story: I have degrees in evolutionary biology and teaching, and am currently looking for a high school biology job. You won’t have to worry about creationism sneaking into my classroom.

Twitter: @CommonDescent

EDIT: Since I posted this, CD has created his own blog, which I'm sure will wind up full of interesting stuff. It can be found here. Enjoy!