Life Lesson: Be Prepared (Against Creationists)

December 12, 2010

I recently held my first Science Cafe event in Cincinnati. The topic of the night was astronomical pseudosciences, such as the 2012 apocalypse myths, aliens, and the star of Bethlehem. So, I was woefully unprepared to handle the creationist in the audience who spoke up to challenge our guest astronomer on issues of evolution and biology. I mean, who would expect those questions to come up at a presentation on astronomy?

The gentleman, who claimed to be trained in biological sciences, was sitting right next to me. I had my first clue that he was up to no good when he started talking about “entropy” in the first few minutes of our casual conversation. I knew that creationists consider “entropy” to be their best argument against evolution, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the topic to have a solid answer. So, I had to nod my head and listen to him spread the typical creationist propaganda without a proper rebuttal.

Always be prepared for a creationist!

The idea of “entropy” is that things in our universe generally break down from order to disorder over time, rather than become more complex.  Except that the second law of thermodynamics only applies in a closed system. The Earth is not a closed system because of the sun. And, in the words of biologist PZ Myers…

it’s obvious that the second law does not state that nothing can ever increase in order, but only that an decrease in one part must be accompanied by a greater increase in entropy in another. Two gametes, for instance, can fuse and begin a complicated process in development that represents a long-term local decrease in entropy, but at the same time that embryo is pumping heat out into its environment and increasing the entropy of the surrounding bit of the world.

This guy’s arguments would have been nullified if I had previously researched and understood the preceding points. But, I’m not a scientist, and the speaker was an astronomer (not a ‘squishy scientist’ as Phil Plait says), so this creationist was purposefully dropping bombs in a room where they couldn’t adequately be defended. Why?

I have no idea. The lesson I learned is to be prepared. Be ready to face any argument that challenges evolution. Not only did I not have an answer for this gentleman, but neither did the guests, the majority of whom who supported evolution,

The other argument that this guy made was that E. coli bacteria has never undergone speciation, despite years of experimentation.  I knew this was wrong and was able to quickly counter his argument by googling “bacteria citrate” on my phone. That’s because I remembered that the scientist Richard Lenski had conducted long-term experiments with bacteria, and was able to prove that two subsequent generations of E. coli had two completely different biological skills of whether or not they could absorb citrate. Again, I did’t know the details, but I knew enough to throw a name at him and ask him if he was prepared to admit that he might be wrong.

The creationist described E. coli as having no significant biological variation after many experimental generations, despite Dr. Lenski’s proof to the contrary. Rather than admit his error, he denied that the absorption of citrate was significant enough to be considered “speciation”. Whatever. I’m not a biologist, but the sudden ability of a species to absorb a nutrient seems like a VERY big deal, and as I pointed out to this gentleman, his unstated premise is that the alternative option is that God intervened with a miracle… for something as small and insignificant as a bacteria. That doesn’t seem logical, considering the millions of bacteria that have been discovered.

You might think that having a creationist heckler at my first science cafe would be a downer, but I truly enjoy the thrill of being challenged. There was a point when I thought this creationist might completely derail the evening’s topic, and when that was about to happen, I called for everyone to let the speaker bring things back to astronomy. This was very well received by all, and our creationist friend was able to follow up with his questions during Q&A.

I’m not a scientist. I’m a science advocate. But still, it’s important that I be comfortable with standard creationist canards, so that I’m not blindsided again. Let this be a lesson to me… and to you.

My Trip to the Creation Museum

August 9, 2009

I finally made it to the Creation Museum.  No, I didn’t make the trip with PZ Myers, and the other 300 or so day-tripping atheists, along with the Secular Student Alliance .  Parental responsibilities got in the way.  However, a few days ago, after a trip to the dentist with my daughter, we found time to stop by.  Oh, don’t worry though.  She’s 8 years old and has a finely tuned skeptical filter that nothing gets by without question.

So, I posted a few of the photos I took, and soon after, I was asked a question from a good friend of mine, whom I believe is a Christian by birth, what did I think of it?  This is my response:

What I thought of the Creation Museum?  Well, there were dinosaurs.  Lots of dinosaurs.  Dinosaur paraphernalia was sprinkled all throughout the place.  I like dinosaurs, as do my children, and probably your children too.  Dinosaurs are cool.  So, they definitely have the cool factor going for them.  Though, overall, I thought it was disturbing, especially when I saw children there, young impressionable children.  Children, whose minds are being manipulated to think, that to be in good favor with their religious social group, or even with their parents, they have to put aside everything they’re taught in school and buy into this garbage.

The “alternative” and opposing information that is provided there is just simply bogus and destructive.  They are anti-science, anti-progress, anti-education and anti-reason, and admittedly so.  The children who are indoctrinated into this sect are being robbed of vital critical thinking skills.  Skills that are vital to the progression of society as a whole.  As cliché as it sounds, an investment in the minds of children is an investment in our future.  Yes, there is a future to care about.  The End Times are not coming.

It’s one frame of mind to believe in some sort of omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent ultimate consciousness that set forth into motion time and matter, but does not otherwise interfere.  It’s another frame of mind to believe in a “one true god” and to say you’re a Christian and yet another to be a Christian fundamentalist and believe the Bible might contain accounts of actual historical events, and act as an infallible source of morals.  That’s a person’s right and prerogative.  It’s something different altogether to just make things up to manipulate the public and more specifically, the group that calls themselves Christian, into thinking they have to throw out what bit of reason or logic they allow themselves to believe the nonsense they have to offer, to maintain their good status in their religious group.  As an example, this sect puts the phrase “God’s word” as an opposition to reason, as it shows in one particular exhibit of posters displaying actual scientific discoveries and offers, what is known as Ockham’s razor, a simplified answer to every question that may arise, it is “God’s word.”  This implies a person has to choose one over the other.  A book of bronze-age mythology over current scientific advancement and inquiry.  Religious authority over freethought.  Religious dogma over observable, empirical and measurable evidence that is subject to correcting and integrating previous knowledge, also known as science.

Rest assured, you can call yourself a Christian and accept the scientific method, too.

The word, museum, used in the name of the place, is very deceiving.  In my opinion, the place, which is reminiscent of an overly produced, but well done, carnival side show might be more aptly named, “The House of Creationism.”  Even then you might wonder what the deal is with all the randomly placed dinosaurs.

You might also raise an eyebrow to the heavily armed guards posing as the Creation Museum Police, whom upon inquiry, will let you know in a well scripted brief, although they have so far been without incident, they are ready to detain, arrest and subdue with force, anyone causing trouble.

Fortunately, with my military ID I got got in free and a half price admission for my daughter.


Faithless Founders of the USA

April 8, 2008

My Dad is visiting and inspiring all kinds of posts for this blog.  Today we were at Cincinnati’s Museum Center for the Bodies Exhibit and to take the kids to the Children’s Museum.  My Dad, a PR guy for public schools, wandered a little too close to a playgroup of creationist Moms who were badmouthing public education.  Among the things discussed were whether “Jesus” could be spoken by public school students and whether the Earth was 6000 years old or 6 billion years old.  He started debating with them, and I was completely embarassed- for no good reason- and kept my silence until… one of the Bible Moms said, “Our country was founded on religious principles.”

I replied that God is not mentioned in the constitution once and instead you find this- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What then are the beliefs of our founding fathers?

In 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli was ratified by the senate unanimously.  It said, “The government of the United States is in no way founded on the Christian religion.”

In God We Trust was not added to US currency until 1957 during McCarthyism.  The original Pledge of Allegiance (written in 1897) did not mention god; it said this, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.  “God” was not added to the pledge until 1954 when the Knights of Columbus referenced Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address as a reason to add it.

George Washington was baptized as a child and went to church some, but he refused communion after the war.  When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, “If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.” 

John Adams was a unitarian who had some nice things to say about christianity, but he also said this- “Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it.’ “

Thomas Jefferson, a unitarian, had this to say about christianity “The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained.”  ETA… He completely disagreed with the miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospels.  He actually re-wrote the New Testament- removing anything of a supernatural nature.  If he were alive today, he would’ve taken Jar Jar Binks out of the Phantom Menace

James Madison had a lot to say about religion.  “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” and also “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial.  What have been its fruits?  More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstitioin, bigotry, and persecution.”

Maybe creationist Moms should not be meeting at a science museum and exposing their children to the devil’s playground.  Instead, they can plan all their fun at The Creation Museum where their fantasies about our founding fathers can come true.  I really don’t want to impose my beliefs on them any more than I want them to do such a thing to me, but I won’t let them spread lies about our secular government.   The heathen founders of the U.S. are one reason I’m proud to be an American.