Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

‘Most Express Sympathy for the Censorship’

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

The firing of a magazine editor in Turkey over her intention to put a story about Darwin’s evolution theory on the cover has generated a flood of criticism. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the editor about just how conservative Turkish society has become.

No issue divides Turks more than the country’s alleged creeping Islamization. Early last week, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) sparked an international controversy after it prevented the publication of a cover story about Charles Darwin’s evolution theory in Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), one of the country’s leading science journals. The publication’s editor-in-chief, 41-year-old Cigdem Atakuman, claims she was fired as a result of the incident.

Secular Turks are outraged and the world is watching. Did Tubitak, which publishes Bilim ve Teknik, censor a feature about the theory of evolution under pressure from the conservative Islamic-oriented AKP-led government because it couldn’t be reconciled with Muslim religious beliefs?A senior Tubitak official has blamed the editor for removing the story, according to Turkish daily Hürriyet, saying changes were made at the last minute and rushed. But Atakuman has denied the allegation, saying the deputy head of the council, Ömer Cebeci, told her the cover story was too controversial and that he no longer trusted her to responsibly perform her duties. The paper claims the incident has been reduced to a case of “one person’s word against the other’s.”

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Atakuman defends her position and says she is worried about the future of bias-free science in her country.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Atakuman, is it true that you were fired?

Cigdem Atakuman: Yes, it’s true. Up until now, there has been no official statement. But I was made to understand, verbally, that I have no future as the editor-in-chief of Bilim ve Teknik.

READ THE REST OF THIS AT “SPIEGEL.DE”

Is Canada’s Science Minister a creationist?

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on March 17, 2009

The Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail is reporting that Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology in Canada, may not believe in evolution.

The situation is somewhat confusing. The article starts off with this:

Canada’s science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won’t say if he believes in evolution.

“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Wait, what? Religion? The reporter says he was asked about evolution! This makes the issue a little muddy.

If Goodyear was asked specifically about evolution, then it’s not directly a question about religion, and the quotation doesn’t make sense. Either the reporter got it wrong, or the Canadian Minister of Science thinks evolution is religion. Or that being asked about evolution is akin to being asked about religion.

Egads.

Let me get this clear: science is not faith-based. Evolution is science, and science is not religion. Therefore, being asked about evolution is not the same as being asked about religion.

However, if he was asked about his religion, and the context was whether his religious beliefs are in conflict with evolution, then the question is very appropriate. In fact, the situation would demand it. He’s the Minister of Science! If he thinks evolution is not true because he’s a creationist, then every scientist in Canada should be demanding Goodyear be fired.

Goodyear, apparently, disagrees.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

Moral Disgust Linked to Primitive Emotion

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 26, 2009

Feb. 26, 2009 — A new study reveals insights into the ancient roots of our modern-day sense of moral disgust.

Research from the University of Toronto suggests that our sense of right and wrong appears to be directly linked to a primitive survival instinct that caused our ancient ancestors to find foul-tasting, poisonous foods disgusting.

The study appears in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Science.

“These results shed new light on the origins of morality, suggesting that not only do complex thoughts guide our moral compass, but also more primitive instincts related to avoiding potential toxins,” principal investigator Adam K. Anderson, PhD, says in a news release.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “WEBMD”

In addition to the Holocaust, we’re responsible for this, too?

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on February 26, 2009

Anytime something wrong happens, there is a Christian who will blame it on atheism and evolution. The latest is the case of the foolish woman who kept an adult chimpanzee as a pet, and got badly mauled for her trouble. This, of course, is Charles Darwin’s fault.

How is it that we live in a culture where people think it’s safe to have a chimpanzee as a pet? Where do people get the idea that we ought to take a wild animal and treat it like a human being? The chimp owner treated the animal like a son who ate at her table, slept in her house, and even drove her car.

Last week the world celebrated Darwin’s 200th birthday. Universities placed tributes to Darwinism on their home page (examples include Oxford and Cambridge) and major networks such as BBC ran extensive programs devoted to Darwin’s great contribution to the world.

Yet, ironically, this week we witness a brutal act that seems to logically follow from Darwin’s ideas. You may be wondering how I can possibly link Darwin to this atrocious event. But think about it, if humans are deeply related to chimps then why not expect them to act that way?

“…seems to logically follow…” — I don’t think that Mr McDowell understands that word “logic” very well.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “PHARYNGULA”

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on February 19, 2009

This one’s a little old, but it’s a gem, in fact the whole entry is just deliciously funny. By the way I do not endorse breaking people’s knees with baseball bats, and neither does the author of the entry I assume, so don’t start complaining about it.

So, you may think you’re going to blow me away with your amazing show of rhetoric, but believe me, I have seen it before, and you’re wrong. The thing that you’re about to write is not only wrong, but transparently, stupidly, embarrassingly wrong, so wrong that it makes me wince inwardly with shame at the fact that you’re a member of the same human race that I am. What you’re about to write is evidence that you haven’t bothered to read the FAQs, or comprehended a single book on evolutionary biology that’s not written by one of your crackpot creationist pseudo-intellectuals. So don’t bother writing what you’re going to write. Just go away.

The Abstract Factory

You should need a permit to be so stupid…

Posted in Happy Jihads House of Pancakes by Skepdude on February 18, 2009

Ray Comfort…whatta guy! I swear, he’s a virtuoso of goof. This came through Howse’s website. It’s called: “The Evolution of the Egg: A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups.” In this, he…redefines…oh, man it’s just dumb:

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? For those who believe the Bible, it was the chicken, and the first egg came some time later.

No. There is a correct answer here, and it will be right whether one takes the Bible literally, takes the Bible with a grain of salt, or takes the Bible out back to the pond and drowns it. There is an objective reality with which we have to deal. Just saying.

However, it’s not so simple among the Genesis-less generation. Did the first chicken come from the first egg, or was it the chicken that first laid the first egg? Long ago, even Aristotle (384-322 BC) spoke of the egg dilemma. He philosophized: “For there could not have been a first egg to give a beginning to birds, or there should have been a first bird which gave a beginning to eggs; for a bird comes from an egg.”

Aristotle was so stoned.

Let’s get into a little philosophical talk ourselves.

Oh, dear God, no. Hold on. I’m getting my shotgun.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “HAPPY JIHAD’S HOUSE OF PANCAKES”

Intelligent Designers whine about Gallup Poll

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

After getting kicked in the sack by The Vatican, IDers seem to have been bitch slapped by Gallup as well. In the latest poll that asked the following question “Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?” the results came in like this:

gallup-evo-pollThis has the IDers up in arms and alarmed because the non-believers (or reality deniers as I like to refer to them, personally) are a full 14 percentage points behind those who believe in evolution. Obviously the reason must be that something is wrong with this poll; it’s the only logical explanation really.

Why don’t they ever ask about the specifics of the theory? For example: 1) Do you believe that all living things came from a universal single-celled common ancestor? 2) Do you believe that random mutation or random variation and natural selection explain the origin of all life and its complexity? 3) Do you believe that humans evolved from a primitive ape-like ancestor in the last several million years, and if so, does the Darwinian mechanism in question 2) explain how it happened?

Yeah, why don’t they aske leading question or incorrect questions that have a higher probability of getting the answer the IDers seek? That’s like complaining that a poll which asked the question “Do you believe in God?” does not really measure people’s belief because it does not ask if they also believe Psalm 137:9. “Happy shall he be that takes and dashes the little ones against the stones.”? And why not ask ficticious things as well, because that is what that whole bit about evolution explaining “the origin of all life” is really, for evolution explains how life evolved after it was originated, and claiming otherwise is a straw man argument.

The Gallup poll then goes on to discuss educational level and church attendance, and how this correlates with belief in “evolution.” As expected, those with more “education” are more likely to be true believers, and those who attend church weekly are less likely to be true believers. The conclusion is obviously that educated people can see the truth and wisdom of evolution, and those who attend church regularly are blinded by religion.

Here’s the graph they are talking about:

education-and-evo-belief-gallup-pollClearly there is a correlation between education level and belief in Evolution, but no one seems to be making the same conclusions the IDers are screaming and yelling about! We understand that correlation does not imply causation, and the IDers are seeing causation. A bit paranoid maybe? Here’s all the Gallup Poll says about this graph:

There is a strong relationship between education and belief in Darwin’s theory, as might be expected, ranging from 21% of those with high-school educations or less to 74% of those with postgraduate degrees.

Those with high-school educations or less are much more likely to have no opinion than are those who have more formal education. Still, among those with high-school educations or less who have an opinion on Darwin’s theory, more say they do not believe in evolution than say they believe in it. For all other groups, and in particular those who have at least a college degree, belief is significantly higher than nonbelief.

Now where are they getting that whole “educated people can see the truth and wisdom of evolution, and those who attend church regularly are blinded by religion.” nonsense from? Paranoia? Or anger because they actually think that specific causation is true? I don’t know! But they seem to know exactly what’s happening here:

But perhaps a major factor is that those with more education who never attend church have never been exposed to anything but pro-Darwin indoctrination in public schools and universities, as well as the mainstream media, and have never heard about any of the weaknesses of the theory. That was the case in my situation.

Guilty as charged! Our education system teaches only science and no religious dogma. We must own up to that fact guys; we are heavily biased towards reason and evidence.

Forbes on evolution and intelligent design

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

This is the year of Darwin (yes, yes, it’s also the year of astronomy, I know), and especially this week — around the date of Chuck’s birth — we are seeing a spike of events, radio and tv pieces, and printed articles. (Expect a second peak in November, for the anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.) One of the most schizophrenic treatments of the topic surely is the one published this week by Forbes magazine. They have a number of solid pieces by recognized scientists and science writers (for instance by evo-devo researcher Sean Carroll, philosopher Michael Ruse, and writer Michael Shermer). But they also have four, I repeat four, insanely anti-intellectual articles by pro-ID writers: Ken Ham (the “CEO” of Answers in Genesis and founder of the oxymoronic Creation Museum in Kentucky), John West (the hack author of Darwin Day in America), Jonathan Wells (the infamous author of Icons of Evolution), and my colleague here at Stony Brook, Neurosurgery Vice Chairman Michael Egnor. I will ignore the first three because I have dealt with them on numerous occasions in the past, and concentrate instead on Egnor.

He begins his piece by stating that “As an undergraduate biochemistry major, I was uncomfortable with
Darwinian explanations for biological complexity. Living things certainly appeared to be designed.” That’s a bad enough reflection on undergraduate science education in the United States at the time (alas, it ain’t much better today, in this respect), but the fact that Egnor persists in such a naive way of thinking today, as a professor of neurosurgery is really a shame (for him and for Stony Brook).

Egnor goes on trotting out the same old tired creationist “objections” to evolution. The fossil record has discontinuities (yes, it does, and they have been shown over and over to be perfectly compatible with evolution, considering the time scales involved); biomolecules are so complex that they couldn’t possibly have originated naturally (an argument from ignorance, both in the philosophical sense and in the personal sense that Egnor is obviously ignorant about molecular evolution); the genetic “code” couldn’t exist without design, because only intelligent beings produce codes (an astounding example of taking a metaphor literally instead of looking at the perfectly explicable biochemistry of nucleic acids). Then Egnor proceeds by asking what he seems to think are devastating questions for “evolutionists.” Let’s take a look.

“Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design theory isn’t scientific, when both intelligent design and Darwinism are merely the affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: Is there evidence for teleology in biology?” This betrays Egnor’s ignorance of the nature of science. The question of teleology in biology is most certainly not a scientific question, it is a philosophical one. And “Darwinism” is not a negative answer to that question, it is a positive answer to the question of how adaptive complexity originated during the history of life on earth.

“Why do Darwinists–scientists–seek recourse in federal courts to silence criticism of their theory in public schools?” Because the issue is one of government-mandated separation of Church and State and school board-regulated criteria for what should be taught in science classrooms. The creation-evolution debate is not a scientific debate, it is a social controversy, and as such it naturally, if unfortunately, involves court challenges.

“What is it about the Darwinian understanding of biological origins that is so fragile that it will not withstand scrutiny by schoolchildren?” Are you kidding? Schoolchildren do not understand plenty of other solidly established science either. For instance, many children (and a good number of adults) seem to think of the world in terms of Aristotelian, not Newtonian (let alone relativistic) physics. Should we ban Sir Isaac from science curriculum as a result?

Egnor ends his piece with a long whine about how he has been vilified on the internet (well, join the club, dude), and how “fundamentalist atheists” have called for him to be fired. I don’t know how good a neurosurgeon Egnor is, but I assume he is good enough to have obtained his post at Stony Brook. As such, he should retain it. But if he were in my Department (Ecology & Evolution) I most certainly would call for him to be booted out immediately on the ground that he doesn’t understand the basic foundations of the science in which he is supposed to carry out scholarship and which he should be able to teach to students.

This isn’t a matter of “ostracism” or “intolerance” (rather ironic terms when they come from creationists), it is a matter of intellectual honesty. I don’t subscribe to the Dawkins-style attack on creationists (amply quoted by Egnor, of course), which he calls “ignorant, stupid, insane … or wicked.” Most creationists are none of the last three (though ignorance often does play a role. But then again, I’m just as ignorant of neurosurgery). But Egnor, Ham, Wells, West and especially the editors of Forbes should understand once and for all that evolution is to biology what relativity or quantum mechanics are to physics, what the big bang is to cosmology, or what the atomic theory is to chemistry. Evolution is a scientific fact as solid as they come, and a scientific theory as well established as any other scientific theory is. Creationism and its cousin intelligent design are primitive ideas that were reasonable enough in a pre-scientific society, but do not have a respectable place at the table of intellectual discourse anymore. It’s time to get used to it.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

Intelligent Design gets kicked in the nuts by the Vatican

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

The Vatican has officially accepted that Darwin was right. That’s right folks, the Vatican accepts evolution.

The Vatican has admitted that Charles Darwin was on the right track when he claimed that Man descended from apes.

A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin’s theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. “In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God,” said Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Furthermore ID get’s a kick on the nutsack:

The Vatican also dealt the final blow to speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might be prepared to endorse the theory of Intelligent Design, whose advocates credit a “higher power” for the complexities of life.

Organisers of a papal-backed conference next month marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said that at first it had even been proposed to ban Intelligent Design from the event, as “poor theology and poor science”. Intelligent Design would be discussed at the fringes of the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, but merely as a “cultural phenomenon”, rather than a scientific or theological issue, organisers said.

Three years ago advocates of Intelligent Design seized on the Pope’s reference to an “intelligent project” as proof that he favoured their views.

Wow, the Vatican thinks ID is poor theology on top of poor science, and you know what. For once I agree with the Vatican? It’s a miracle!

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on February 9, 2009

Darwin knew a lot of biology: more than any of his contemporaries, more than a surprising number of his successors. From prolonged thought and study, he was able to intuit how evolution worked without having access to all the subsequent scientific knowledge that others required to be convinced of natural selection. He had the objectivity to put aside criteria with powerful emotional resonance, like the conviction that evolution should be purposeful. As a result, he saw deep into the strange workings of the evolutionary mechanism, an insight not really exceeded until a century after his great work of synthesis.

NYTimes