Category: Evolution


February 12th is Darwin Day, and if you’re interested in attending any Darwin Day events, you should check out this event guide at the International Darwin Day Foundation to check if anything is going on near you. Enjoy!

(via The Panda’s Thumb)

When it comes to comparing atheists to the likes of Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung and Joseph Stalin, Bill O’Reilly  just can’t help himself, even in an interview about a children’s science book.

And when it comes to science, he apparently just can’t learn a damn thing at all:

Now the last time you were here you were honest enough to admit that you don’t know the origin, whether it was a meteor, or something like that. And you said to me, “We’re working on it”, and I said to you, “Let me know.”

Richard Dawkins responded much too politely by saying, “That was only about two years ago”, cutting himself off there instead of continuing on to the natural conclusion of that sentence. What I wish he had said:

“That was only two years ago, you imbecilic fucking creatard who can’t grasp even the simplest scientific concepts such as how the gravitational pull of the moon causes the tides. A meteor? Really? Two years? Really?!? “

Anyhow, here’s the video:

Breaking down some of O’Reilly’s utterances:

“…atheist Richard Dawkins”

How about showing the basic journalistic integrity of calling him biologist Richard Dawkins? Oh, that’s right. Because you don’t have a sliver of integrity in your tiny, angry little mind.

“He’s on a crusade to convince believers they’re idiots.”

No, idiot, he’s appealing to people’s reason based on science and rationality, in order to get them to see that some of their beliefs are unfounded, not that they as individuals are idiots.

“…you were honest enough to admit”

As if it should be assumed automatically that atheists are usually dishonest.

“A-HA!!!”

Colbert would be proud.

“The Judeo-Christian philosophy isn’t a myth, it’s reality.”

Even a solid majority of biblical scholars and theologians wouldn’t agree with this statement. So thank you for demonstrating that you know as little about your own religion as you do about science.

A few days ago, twitter user @BenjiLeeT invited atheists to comment on the image below. (And just to be clear, I’m only posting his twitter handle to credit him as the source for the picture. My criticisms below are in no way directed towards him personally).

So, here’s the pic, which appears to have fairly widely circulated:

Now of course this is meant to be humorous, and perhaps on those grounds it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of how apologists attempt to misrepresent the views of atheists in order to construct straw men and cartoonish stereotypes which are easy to ridicule and dismiss. So on those grounds I find it worthwhile to break down this deeply flawed message in all its fallacious glory.

Starting from the beginning, then, “Atheism: The belief…”

Stop. Three words in and we’ve already arrived at…

Falsehood Number 1: “Atheism is a belief”

Atheism, by definition, is not a belief. It is the lack of belief in any gods. We remain unconvinced of any theistic or supernatural claims because there is insufficient evidence that those claims are true. At its core, atheism is not a belief or viewpoint at all, but rather the natural conclusion that results from a skeptical, rational approach to the observable world. Thus far, every argument for the existence of gods has failed to deliver a shred of substantial, empirical proof that it is based on anything more than human imagination and cultural tradition, and so we remain unconvinced.

Falsehood Number 2: “Atheism equals evolution and the Big Bang”

Now, it’s probably a very large majority of atheists who embrace the validity of the scientific method, and by extension the theories that are the most widely accepted among the scientific community, including evolution and the Big Bang. However, this is not an exclusive club. In fact, the majority of Americans who believe in evolution are theists, being that there are so many more believers than non-believers. The Vatican has officially accepted the Big Bang and evolution, and “theistic evolution” is likewise accepted by a wide range of Protestant Christian denominations as well as many other religions.  So while it’s probably safe to say that most atheists embrace these concepts, it’s patently absurd to suggest that we’re alone in this.

A subheading under this category would be the falsehood that most people who are the loudest critics of the Big Bang and evolution have even the slightest understanding of the science they’re denouncing. When creationists converse with people who actually understand evolution, they will often interject things like, “Well, if evolution is true then how did life start in the first place?”, or, as in the picture above, “Well, if evolution is true, then how did everything come from nothing?” When blurting out these utterances (usually to sidetrack or derail), all they really do is show their complete ignorance of the science they’re talking about. Very few would be able to tell you, for example, that abiogenesis and evolution are completely separate areas of research.

Abiogenesis is the study of how organic matter (which is to say, life) emerged from inorganic matter. The theory of evolution seeks to explain how the complex life forms we know (and are) evolved from simpler previous forms going back to a common ancestor. But evolutionary theory in no way attempts to explain how life originated in the first place. Likewise, the Big Bang theory is an explanation for the beginning of the physical universe, but makes no claims about the origin or evolution of life, or anything biological whatsoever. Apologists will often juggle around elements from all three of these, none of which have any claims to make regarding theological beliefs in the first place, obfuscating and muddying the conversational waters, probably because making good, rational arguments is hard when you don’t have any.

Falsehood Number 3: “Magic”

The use of this word – twice, just to drive the point home, I suppose – just goes to show how willing apologists are to be blatantly dishonest as long as it serves their purpose. It’s obviously thrown in there to suggest that atheists are foolish and silly for believing in the crazy, “magical” fantasies of scientific theory (which again, do not even equate to atheism in the first place). However, most atheists don’t even believe in the mundane David Blaine variety of magic, let alone outlandish tales found in religious scripture of talking snakes, virgin birth and the like. It should go without saying that for believers to ridicule atheists for “believing in magic” is beyond ironic. It is a deliberate and intellectually dishonest ruse to discredit the findings of science, which are supported by natural, empirically verifiable evidence. And beyond that, unlike religion, science is honest and open about the limits of its explanatory powers. Religion takes advantage of that honesty with a childish, “Ha! You even admit that you don’t know!”, and then sleazily proceeds to fill in the gaps with whatever stories suit its purpose. Science is not capable of explaining everything, but everything which science can explain it can do so in entirely naturalistic, empirically evident terms. Religion can’t even come close to claiming the same.

Falsehood Number 4: “Atheists carry the burden of proof of their ‘beliefs'”

The last line of the graphic basically states that religious beliefs (ie. supernatural beliefs) are more rational than naturalistic beliefs, by ridiculing the validity of science. This is fairly sneaky, because what it’s really doing is engaging in an absurd attempt to shift incredulity from supernaturalistic claims to naturalistic claims, even though the latter are objectively observable and the former are not. Another way of saying this is that it’s trying to shift the burden of proof from those who make claims without any scientific evidence to their skeptics who justifiably won’t take their word for it. “I’ll keep believing until you prove me wrong,” the believer says.

Yet, Christians are not obligated to disprove Hindusism, and Hindus are not obligated to disprove alien abductees, and alien abductees are not obligated to disprove Muslims, and Muslims are not obligated to disprove believers in Santa Claus, and believers in Santa Claus are not obligated to disprove 9/11 truthers, and 9/11 truthers are not obligated to disprove Christians.This shifting of the burden of proof is one of the most common apologist tactics, as they demand of atheists time and again that we “prove there is no god”. Sorry folks, but  that’s not our responsibility.

Again, atheism is not in itself a belief, but is instead the insistence that:

a) if people are going to make truth claims regarding the existential reality of gods or other supernatural entities or phenomena, and…

b) if they want us to accept their claims as serious, plausible, rational and believable, then…

c) they are obliged to provide us with evidence of their claims, and it must be both empirically observable under testable conditions and also sufficiently convincing as to merit (cautious) credulity and further testing.

In fact, the majority of atheists are agnostics who not only do not claim any absolute knowledge of the lack of existence of gods, but would absolutely love to see such evidence provided if there were any. But as of yet, there hasn’t been.

But for their part, many theists, rather than being intellectually honest and attempting to make positive proofs for the existence of their gods, resort to the “I know you are but what am I?” deflection method, insisting that we atheists disprove that for which they have absolutely no evidence, and which in reality can’t be disproven (much like you can’t prove I don’t have a tiny Sasquatch living in my top desk drawer), and which we skeptics are simply unable to believe without good reason.

In terms of logic, this is a fallacy known as the argument from ignorance. This is not to call anyone ignorant, but simply to recognize that humans have limits of knowledge, and therefore remain collectively in the dark about the as yet undiscovered and unsolved. The fallacy is to exploit the unknown areas (the “filling in the gaps” described above) and say, “Well, if nobody knows, then therefore that’s God.” Without any justification. Without any legitimate reason. Without any evidence. On nothing but desire and a”faith” in translations of translations of rewrites of rewrites of ancient texts of stories told mostly not by eyewitnesses but handed down in large part orally from generation to generation, somehow finally resulting in what they call the Truth, otherwise known as The Word Of God (as decreed by whichever “holy” scripture they happen to believe in), stories written by people who weren’t there about desert dwellers hundreds or thousands of years ago whose knowledge and understanding of life and the universe was extraordinarily miniscule compared towhat we know of the world today.

And then they have the audacity to call us foolish for not believing. That does not make perfect sense to me.

For one thing, an immune system commonality which arose hundreds of millions of years ago.

From Science Daily:

Humans and Sharks Share Immune System Feature

ScienceDaily (Sep. 29, 2011) — A central element of the immune system has remained constant through more than 400 million years of evolution, according to new research at National Jewish Health. In the September 29, 2011, online version of the journal Immunity, the researchers report that T-cell receptors from mice continue to function even when pieces of shark, frog and trout receptors are substituted in. The function of the chimeric receptors depends on a few crucial amino acids, found also in humans, that help the T-cell receptor bind to MHC molecules presenting antigens.

“These findings prove a hypothesis first proposed 40 years ago,” said senior author Laurent Gapin, PhD, associate professor of immunology in the Integrated Deparemtn of Immunology at National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado Denver. “Even though mammals, amphibians and cartilaginous fish last shared a common ancestor more than 400 million years ago, they continue to share an element of their T-cell receptors, indicating that the T cell-MHC interaction arose early in the evolution of the immune system, and is central to its function.”

Read the whole article here.

I won’t ask apologists to explain how Noah transported these folks over to Mexico. I’ll just let the story speak for itself:

Ancient human footprints found in Mexico

Footprints from early humans that are between 4500 and 25,000 years-old have been discovered in a remote area of northern Mexico, researchers say.

The five footprints set in stone “are among the few impressions of the first inhabitants in the American continent found in Mexico”, the Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement. […]

While no other footprints were found, experts found nearby the remains of primitive camps dating from the Pleistocene Era (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago), the statement read.

The  entire article at Science Daily is well worth a read, so I encourage you to click this link and give it a go before proceeding. What follows is a short blurb, and the video they linked to.

The first video of tool use by a fish has been published in the journal Coral Reefs by Giacomo Bernardi, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In the video, an orange-dotted tuskfish digs a clam out of the sand, carries it over to a rock, and repeatedly throws the clam against the rock to crush it. Bernardi shot the video in Palau in 2009.

“What the movie shows is very interesting. The animal excavates sand to get the shell out, then swims for a long time to find an appropriate area where it can crack the shell,” Bernardi said. “It requires a lot of forward thinking, because there are a number of steps involved. For a fish, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Watch:

The Christian News Wire heaps more bullshit on the steaming pile which is the “Richard Dawkins is afraid to debate William Lane Craig” meme:

[Craig’s] upcoming United Kingdom tour has evidently intimidated Richard Dawkins as he has continually refused to debate Craig when he visits his home turf this October.

[…] A war of words has broken out between Dawkins and his critics, who see his refusal to take on the American academic as a sign that he may be losing his nerve. […]

Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig has become an international issue.

Actually, you lying pieces of crap, it hasn’t become an “issue”, even despite your desperate attempts to use Richard Dawkins’ name to manufacture a controversy and elevate Craig’s profile. Which is, after all, rightfully much lower than that of Dawkins, whose popularity is incomparably more widespread, who has a great deal of respect in the scientific and academic community (even from those who disagree with his assertive approach to atheism), and who has actually, you know, accomplished stuff. (I’d imagine, in fact that many who read this might be asking right about now, “William who?”)

The notion that Dawkins is “intimidated” of debating charlatans like Craig is an utter joke. He has been perfectly clear (see video below) that the reason he won’t debate creationist apologists who are no more than “professional debaters” (as opposed to “a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, an archbishop”, any of whom he says he’d “be happy to debate”): He doesn’t have the tiime to waste on them, or in his words, “I’m busy”. I think it’s reasonable to infer that he considers creationism such a farce that he doesn’t want to give its proponents a platform to preach from.

Furthermore, it seems clear that he has no patience for Craig’s intellectual dishonesty, which Sam Harris aptly described after their “god debate”:

As I observed once during the debate, but should have probably mentioned again, Craig employs other high school debating tricks to mislead the audience: He falsely summarizes what his opponent has said; he falsely claims that certain points have been conceded; and, in our debate, he falsely charged me with having wandered from the agreed upon topic. The fact that such tricks often work is a real weakness of the debate format, especially one in which the participants are unable to address one another directly.

Video of Dawkins’ answer to the question of why he won’t debate Craig is below the fold. Continue reading

The University of California Museum of Paleontology‘s DinoBuzz site presents the question: Are Birds Really Dinosaurs? I encourage you to read the entire piece, which goes into much more depth, but here I have excerpted some key points from the answer:

Ask your average paleontologist who is familiar with the phylogeny of vertebrates and they will probably tell you that yes, birds (avians) are dinosaurs. Using proper terminology, birds are avian dinosaurs; other dinosaurs are non-avian dinosaurs, and (strange as it may sound) birds are technically considered reptiles. Overly technical? Just semantics? Perhaps, but still good science. In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of birds being the descendants of a maniraptoran dinosaur, probably something similar (but not identical) to a small dromaeosaur.

[…]

Today the important issue seems to be specifically which dinosaurs are the closest relatives of birds. The controversy over the dinosaurian status of birds had its heyday in the 1970’s, but the coverage of the issue today by the press might make you think it was still a problematic matter. For those that have actually seen the relevant specimens and considered all of the relevant data (which is a basic procedure for any scientist), it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between “bird” and “non-avian dinosaur”.

[…]

The opponents of the theropod hypothesis refuse to propose an alternative hypothesis that is falsifiable. This is probably because there are no other suitable candidates for avian ancestors. “Thecodonts” are often promoted as such, but this is an obfuscatory, antiquated term for a hodgepodge of poorly understood and paraphyletic, undiagnosible reptiles. The problems cited by such opponents for theropods are often more serious for the “thecodont” pseudo-hypothesis. Finally, such opponents also refuse to use the methods and evidence normally accepted by comparative evolutionary biologists, such as phylogenetic systematics and parsimony. They rely more on an “intuitive approach,” which is not a method at all but just an untestable gestalt impression laden with assumptions about how evolution must work.

[…]

The facts are resoundingly in support of a maniraptoran origin for birds; certainly a theropodan origin at the very least. So when you see a hawk diving to snatch a dove, or an egret darting for fish, or an ostrich dashing across the African savanna, know that you are gaining some insight into what the extinct dinosaurs were like.

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