christians, Conservatives, creationism, culture, education, evolution, media, politics, racism, religion, religious right, Republicans, Things We Should Know, Uncategorized

It’s Not the End of the World

His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

-George Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

To those of you thoughtful (or at least conscious) enough to recognize the process described above, you probably have asked the same question I have: How do people who, for the most part, seem outwardly rational and functioning members of society, believe some of the political or religious ideology that has been spoon-fed to them? Many of the ideas espoused by extremists of all stripes are demonstrably false, so how can people go on believing them?

As far back as 1956, behavioural scientists have published studies dealing with this question – that year, Leon Festinger published When Prophecy Fails, a book that described the reactions of individuals faced with the by now quite common phenomenon of the world continuing on without ending. The individuals were members of an apocalyptic cult who had given away all of their belongings and waited upon the figurative mountaintop for the end of the world, which never came. How did these people deal with the fact that their beliefs, and the actions that followed their beliefs, had been proven unequivocally incorrect? Surprisingly, the cult members’ beliefs intensified, and they began proselytizing even more fervently.

This phenomenon was described by Festinger and his co-investigators as a type of cognitive dissonance, which occurs under specific circumstances:

1. The belief must be held with deep conviction and be relevant to the believer’s actions or behavior.

2. The belief must have produced actions that are difficult to undo.

3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and concerned with the real world such that it can be clearly disconfirmed.

4. The disconfirmatory evidence must be recognized by the believer.

5. The believer must have social support from other believers.

So to create the increased fervor, the members of the group must actually recognize that the evidence is against them. The social support of the other believers is crucial to the continuance of faith in what has clearly been disproven.

So, let’s apply this to those that myself and other authors here on the ‘Kog often find ourselves at odds with: Tea Partiers, religious fanatics, Conservatives, conservatives (note size of ‘c’), climate/evolution/science deniers, racists, alt med zealots, and so on. Our frustration in large part comes not from the fact that people have a particular belief; that’s their right in a democracy and none of us would have it any other way. The frustration arises (for me, at least) from the individuals’ dogged adherence to beliefs and customs that have been clearly shown through evidence to be non-productive, simply false, or even patently absurd – no amount of discussion or clarification will budge them from their metaphoric hilltops. As long as they have the security of knowing that others share their beliefs, they can cover themselves in that fact as with a warm blanket and weather any storms we may visit upon them.

Kinda makes you think, don’t it? Considering this over the past few days, I have recognized my own tendency to dig my heels in and push when encountering opposition; recognized also my quite literal anger at people who refuse to change their minds despite whatever evidence I may bring to bear. I have realized that I will quite clearly never change their minds or cause them to alter their behaviour one bit, just as their arguments won’t change me in the least. Engaging with the zealot on his own terms requires you to become a zealot, to attack the individual and react emotionally to the ‘ignorance’ you must crusade against. I have personally seen this in myself, and walked away grumbling from my computer, my day ruined by my ideological opposite number who has drawn me into reacting emotionally.

But, no more – evidence is evidence, and truth is truth despite some people’s objections to it. Some acts are just and some are unjust, and some ideologies deserve the time and energy that can be committed to teaching and learning different perspectives… And some, as much as my brain craves closure and victory, are not. The secret to creating and maintaining an online persona that carries some weight and the appearance of validity, as I see it, is recognizing the difference. Some people cannot and will not be convinced, so wasting the effort to try is folly. So, I shall no longer feed the trolls. I expect my blood pressure will be better overall as a result.

If you are so motivated, I’d love to hear some discussion of your experiences in the comments. I want this to be the start of a great conversation, not the end.

christians, creationism, education, evolution, favourite person, religion, religious right, Sites of Interest, Things We Should Know

The (R)Evolution Will Not Be Televised…

150 years ago today, Charles Darwin published one of the truly seminal and historic works in the history of mankind: On the Origin of Species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

A mouthful to be sure, but, despite opposition from dogmatic demagogues, the work has served as the basis for our understanding of the development of all life on Earth, humanity included.

Who da man? You da man.

I wanted to take the opportunity to remind folk of the anniversary, and to re-post the link to all of Darwin’s work online.  Despite the pathetic attempts by a has-been celebrity to distribute edited versions of the book, it is an uncomfortable truth that these delusional religious fanatics need to accept: Evolution is a fact. Let’s hope that adherence to religious dogma has ceased to be a ‘positive attribute’ for survival purposes, and that we can successfully breed it out of the human species. Let’s lose the superfluous hallucinations and find our true humanity – 150 years after it was first described to us.

Better late than never.

Note: Apologies to Briguy for borrowing the brackets.:)


A (sadly typical) Christian Take on Ardi

From my new favourite site, The Christian Post (emphasis mine):

Following Thursday’s announcement, some critics of evolution theory used the latest buzz to point out that “faith” is required to believe pro-evolution scientists who are themselves unsure about many things and constantly changing what they believe to be true.

Sigh. Unable to understand that science does not stand stagnant like religious dogma, they, in this case, Kirk Cameron’s close personal friend (no, not Jesus) continue:

“’Six months ago, we would have said our common ancestor looked something like a chimp,’” Christian preacher Ray Comfort cited White as having said. “’Now all that has changed.’ Sure has. And it will change again, and again, and again. I know, ‘that’s what real science does.’”

Comfort goes on to refer to the “faith” of “evolutionists”, trying to turn the lack of evidence for their own “theory” into a weakness in “ours”.

Like turds in the punchbowl, so are Creationists in our world.

creationism, education, evolution, favourite person, science, Sites of Interest, Things We Should Know

“Ardi”: No Longer Missing

My friends, it is a good day when the ludicrous ramblings of demagogues are undone by the spirit of scientific exploration. I’d like to introduce your friend and mine, “Ardi”:


Ardi is a specimen of Ardipithecus ramidus, who walked the Earth over a million years before Lucy, who herself lived about 3.2 million years ago. She is, in simplest terms, the common ancestor of humans and apes, or, even more importantly, the ‘missing link’ that was a supposed weakness of evolutionary theory.

From the online National Geographic article:

Announced at joint press conferences in Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the analysis of the Ardipithecus ramidus bones will be published in a collection of papers tomorrow in a special edition of the journal Science, along with an avalanche of supporting materials published online.

“This find is far more important than Lucy,” said Alan Walker, a paleontologist from Pennsylvania State University who was not part of the research. “It shows that the last common ancestor with chimps didn’t look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between.”

This is an historic find with broad significance to the study of human biology and history. To its credit, the New York Times does lead its Science section with this, but it deserves a lot more attention.

Strike another of the unscientific arguments against evolution. Take that, Kirk Cameron!

atheism, censorship, christians, creationism, culture, evolution, religion, religious right, science, Things We Should Know

Evangelicals: Growing Pains (In the Ass)

Former Growing Pains ‘star’ and current delusional paranoid evangelical xtian Kirk Cameron, has indicated that he plans to distribute to U.S. universities 100,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with a new 50-page foreword, to subvert the 150th anniversary of the publishing of the iconic science text on November 22nd, 2009 – “Darwin Day”.

The following from The Huffington Post:

Cameron explains that this “very special” edition of the “Origin of Species” will include an introduction explaining “Adolf Hitler’s undeniable connection” to the theory of evolution, and highlighting “Darwin’s racism” and “his disdain for women.” Cameron’s edition also exposes the “many hoaxes” of evolutionary theory, while presenting a “balanced view of Creationism.”

From the untalented hack’s own mouth:

A clever response from another YouTube user:

There are no limit to the ways I can object to this, and to how offended this makes me. To suggest that someone has the right to potentially alter the text of a seminal work (as suggested here)  is offensive. There is no requirement to be fair in the discussion of established scientific fact – there are no alternate explanations. What discussion happens in the field of evolutionary science concerns the processes within the general theory, not whether the basic theory is true. There is no internal conflict as to the truth of the statement “Organisms evolve and adapt to their environments”, the question of how it happens in specific instances are the subjects of discussion. There is, nor will there ever be, a requirement for ‘fairness’ or for providing time for alternate explanations, unless these explanations are derived from the same methodology. Otherwise, you are comparing scientific apples to schizophrenic oranges.

I propose to give away, for free, 100,000 copies of the Revised Edition of the Bible, which includes extensive references to historical, archaeological and physical scientific records to disprove the assertions of that book phrase-by-phrase. Hey, it’s only fair, right?

Science has no comment on religion (other than in behavioral terms), and religion should not try to usurp the expertise of science. To rehash the tired cliches about Hitler and evolution (let’s have a chat with the American originator of Eugenics, Charles Davenport, before drawing conclusions – Hitler couldn’t have enacted the idea without an American’s help – nice going), and Darwin’s supposed racism (he was, by all accounts, fairly tolerant – as least as much as an Englishman of his time could be) and misogyny (same notation) are idiotic, and will not convince anyone that evolution is not a scientific fact. You are, if you’ll excuse the phrase, preaching to the choir – the only purpose of this farce is to reinforce the religious views of those who already believe.

The evidence – ALL the evidence: physical, archaeological, biological, geological, etc., etc., adds up to ‘proven’, no matter how uncomfortable an untalented former teen idol is with the concept.

429px-Charles_Darwin_seatedWay to go, Mr. D.

Fuck you, Kirk Cameron.

No matter what you do, Kirk, Charles Darwin will always be more famous than you. Deal with it.

atheism, christians, creationism, evolution, media, religion

False Compromise: The Purpose of Purpose

The New York Times Op-Ed page on Saturday posted a piece by Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, on the possibility of common ground between creationists and evolutionists, or, more basically, the religious and the atheists. Even more basically, I believe he has missed the point of human existence entirely, or at least that part of human existence that is explicitly social. Rather a strong indictment, I realize, but let me explain…

Before I begin in earnest, a caveat or two: First, Wright’s book, referenced above, seems by all appearances to be  an interesting exploration of the history of religion, for the most part, so I wouldn’t consider him an apologist or someone attempting to rationalize the validity of creationism.  Second, I appreciate his apparent attempt to reconcile or at least dial down the rhetoric between creationists and atheists – can’t fault the intent, but I sincerely differ with him on the method.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Wright, somewhat curiously, see the potential for detente in the acceptance by both parties of the idea that morality, or the ‘higher purpose’ reflected by the development of moral definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, can be seen as universal constants that exist outside the normal course of evolution, or something that may have predated human society. In his own words, Wright describes a conversation with psychologist and atheist Steven Pinker:

As Mr. Pinker once put it in conversation with me: “There may be a sense in which some moral statements aren’t just … artifacts of a particular brain wiring but are part of the reality of the universe, even if you can’t touch them and weigh them.” Comparing these moral truths to mathematical truths, he said that perhaps “they’re really true independent of our existence. I mean, they’re out there and in some sense — it’s very difficult to grasp — but we discover them, we don’t hallucinate them.”

Mr. Pinker’s atheism shows that thinking in these cosmic terms doesn’t lead you inexorably to God. Indeed, the theo-biological scenario outlined above — God initiating natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a morally rich and reflective species — has some pretty speculative links in its chain.

But the point is just that these speculations are compatible with the standard scientific theory of human creation. If believers accepted them, that would, among other things, end any conflict between religion and the teaching of evolutionary biology. And theology would have done what it’s done before: evolve — adapt its conception of God to advancing knowledge and to sheer logic.

Those of us who are interested can see the inherent flaw in this proposed compromise: introducing an invisible, unverifiable causal relationship to an accepted and observed phenomenon is unnecessary and constitutes an abrogation of the scientific method. One can hear Occam’s Razor plummeting toward us as we read.

The ultimate reasoning ere seems to be that Wright (and others) need an answer for why evolution (the example given) happens the way it does; what is wrong with the way the question is being asked is that the scientific ‘why’ is fundamentally different from the spiritual ‘why’. One seeks to explain cause-and-effect logically, while the other seeks to understand what the purpose of a phenomenon is – eminently comforting to those who cannot accept the idea of a random, disordered, chaotic universe.

To me, the essay echoes what I could call the “Von Daeniken Sydnrome”, after the author Erich von Daeniken, who postulated, very simply, that pyramid construction could only have been accomplished through the timely assistance of visitors from outer space. The basic premise of this is that humans lack the ingenuity and skill necessary to develop such an engineering marvel. Wright dismisses the possibility that phenomena like altruism could have developed independent of outside ‘cosmic’ influence, due to the fact that altruistic actions cause imbalances – if I give you my last apple because you are hungry, I gain nothing. Am I being influenced by the cosmic morality of the universe by making such a sacrifice?

Not at all. In fact, despite being deprived of a material benefit (the apple), I gain a social benefit (gratitude, positive assessment of my character by others) which may in fact far outweigh the short-term gain of keeping the apple to myself as you starve. Humans are social animals – their ways of interacting with one another have evolved just as they themselves have, but underlying all of the gradual changes to societal mores and values are certain constants that had to develop through interactive processes that involved the understanding of actions and consequences, positive and negative judgments by one’s ‘cultural peers’, and their gradual distillation into concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. These are social constructs, not universal, cosmically-bestowed moral commandments.

Human beings by nature are compelled to impose order on perception, be it physical or social, so it is only natural that a lack of understanding of ever-changing societal dynamics could lead to the imposition of a ‘supernatural’ influence on human morality. The problem is, imposing a cosmic absolute or the fulfillment of some purpose larger than ourselves on the expression of cultural rituals and ideas runs counter to the basic tenets of science as a human endeavor in its most idealized form. This is not a compromise, this is an attempt to impose meaning that isn’t there on emotions and cultural rituals that, ironically, make no sense to religious believers. It is another attempt to paint humans and the rest of the world as ‘special’ and ‘tuned into the universe’.

It is a curious and basic mistake for someone with the apparent credibility of Wright to make, and an even more curious one for a psychologist to make. The Cosmic Game Theory just doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I, and many others, have more faith in the ingenuity, resilience and adaptability of humanity for that idea to become more than a curiosity, or a hastily constructed backdoor to divinity.

creationism, evolution, religion

More creationist aggravation

Oh those pesky creationists. Not only do they prefer to have their heads comfortably ensconced inside their own asses, they would like to have a graduate degree to show for it, too. The Institute for Creation “Research” is suing the Texas State Higher Education Coordinating Board for not granting it the right to issue Master’s degrees in “Science” “Education”. 

I have no problem with this – any person or organization has the right to claim mistreatment when they feel they have been treated unfairly, however one of the moves by a legislator in Texas has me concerned. State Representative Leo Berman has proposed bill HB 2800, which would exempt private organizations and “schools” that do not accept state or federal money from the board’s authority.  Berman sees this as a fairness issue – he is a Creationist and sees the issuance of science degrees in “evolution” as unfair provided creationist “scientists” and “educators” don’t get them, too. (Wither the poor, downtrodden Pastafarian?) 

Can someone explain to me how this could possibly be a positive step? Setting aside the issue that creationism is neither scientific nor even an educated stance in a coffee-break discussion, I mean just from the standpoint of standards of education. If *anyone* can create their own degrees with no authorizing agency, doesn’t it follow that the actual value of a degree vanishes? I can see it now – even more quacks blowing steam about creationism with a “Masters of Science in Education” on their business card, and no indication that it’s a crock of shit.

I will conclude with an example of what I can only assume is a result of the Texas education system, State Representative Berman himself:

“I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago,” Berman told “I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.

What can you do with idiots like that. Do you think he might be a chiropractor in real life? Pick up your torches and pitchforks, ye of reason, there are still creationist trolls that need slaying north and south of the border.

By the way, I should throw out a h/t to The Teapot Atheist, from whom I’ve developed the daily habit of surfing The Christian Post. Both the TA blog and CP are great reads – the first for a fun (for an atheist) read on things religious in the news and the second to make you feel smug in that “I can’t believe people take this shit seriously” kind of way.

Oh, they do.