Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fan Mail: Something Smells Fishy...

Being the ever-popular blogger that I am, I get the occasional email along the lines of "You're going to hell" and "Jesus loves you, but not your homosexual lifestyle," and all sorts of other garbage full of good intentions and sorely lacking on common sense.

I was recently e-accosted earlier this week by with the following statement:
Christians and non-Christians all have the same evidence—the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.

The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions. These are things that are assumed to be true, without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms). This becomes especially relevant when dealing with past events.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? I mean, here he is, appealing to the natural world without appealing to the bible. You might read the above and think, "Oh, well, that makes sense--tell me more!"

But let's start off on the right foot, shall we? Sadly, a quick Internet search discovered that this was a cut-and-paste job--that is, "person_of_the_lord" isn't even using their own words (unless "person_of_the_lord" is Ken Ham, founder and curator of the fairy tale known as the Creation Museum, which I highly doubt...)

Second, and perhaps more paramount than the illusion that "person" took the time to think about what they were writing, is the basis of the argument itself: that science "start[s] with different presuppositions." Nothing could actually be further from the truth (which is supposed to set you free...)

Science is not a "grab bag." That is, scientists do not run around saying "We must preserve the theory of evolution at all costs!" Evolution (and as stated earlier, all of the sciences of medicine and biology) are built on solid facts, tested and confirmed theories. Indeed, if one were to attend any type of forum on evolution, one would quickly realize that, not only does every single statement made have a high demand of proof, but that the bar for even being considered part of the scientific algorithm is so high that it takes years, decades, even multiple decades before something is accepted as a part of the evolutionary theory! This isn't a matter of "different presuppositions" but a matter of understanding the basics of science as a whole.

All of science is based on observation, experimentation, more observation, and more experimentation. There is no "guess work," in that, nothing is assumed, and nothing is taken for granted. When scientists discuss the Theory of Evolution (or the Theory of Relativity or the Theory of Flight), they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

Now, is all reasoning based on "axioms"? An axiom, by definition, is a fundamental principle widely accepted on its intrinsic merit. And on the surface of this statement, Ken actually says something true! (I'm a little shocked too!) The problem comes in when Ken (and by default, "person_of_the_lord") stops short of using critical reasoning.

Let's say Marge is a starfish. How many legs does Marge have? It would be reasonable to assume that Marge has five legs. Most starfish do. However, we also know that there are starfish with more (and less) legs than five. Hence, while we can reason that Marge has five legs, when we look at all the criteria for starfish and the number of legs they have, we must then ask follow up questions, such as: What kind of starfish is Marge? Is Marge a starfish at all? Does she live in salt water or fresh?

This is sort of how critical reasoning works: Not assuming anything, not taking anything for granted, but taking what we've observed about the world, and how it may apply to the given situation or question, which in this case is: Is Marge a starfish? And why does the number of legs she has matter in the natural world?

Creationist reasoning goes something like this: Marge is a starfish. How many legs does Marge have? Let us consult the bible.

Granted, a starfish may be a silly example, but it nonetheless proves the point, much as does the comic above. Creationism checks "critical" at the door and expects "faith" to fill that void... Unfortunately, all that's left is... A void.

Time magazine recently ran an article on the up-and-not-so-coming movie Expelled, in which Ben Stein pretends to know something about nothing. One thing the article said, which I think needs to be repeated endlessly until it sinks in through all the self-delusion of creationists is as follows:
But all scientific knowledge is built this way. A fishnet is made up of a lot more holes than strings, but you can't therefore argue that the net doesn't exist. Just ask the fish.
Indeed, just ask the fish. Because creationism smells of hoards of them rotting away in the sun, and people just don't want to take notice.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Love and Affection...

Having you been watching that ABC series entitled "What Would You Do?" No, no, it isn't some rip-off of the "What Would Jesus Do?" reality show that is every teenage fundies moral compass (Ha!), but a show that creates certain situations just to see what ordinary people would do--or not do--when confronted with such a situation.

The most recent episode included a scenario which covered homosexual public displays of affection in--of all the godforsaken places in the United States--Birmingham, Alabama, bible-belt capital...

This is what happened:
Operator: Birmingham Police operator 9283.
Caller: We have a couple of men sitting out on the bench that have been kissing and drooling all over each other for the past hour or so. It's not against the law, right?
Operator: Not to the best of my knowledge it's not.
Caller: So there's no complaint I could make or have?
Operator: I imagine you could complain if you like ma'am. We can always send an officer down there.
And indeed, a few minutes later, a police office showed up and stated in no uncertain terms, "Just don't do that in public."

I was going to go off on a huge--and I mean huge--tirade, but then I read this post entitled "Take My Arm, My Love," by PD over at Shakespeares Sister, and as PD said it so much better than I ever could... Well, I just think you should check it out at read it.

No matter what your religious affiliation, your views on homosexuality, you political stripes--take the time to read it, and get to know what goes through the mind of every same-sex couple in the country when it comes to PDA (Public Displays of Affection), and then tell me what crime was committed in Birmingham that day...

And just in case you don't feel the need to read the article, here are a few excerpts that speak volumes:
[...] I doubt that most straight [...] people think about, or notice, how frequently they touch their partner in public in ways that are not necessarily "sexual" (in addition to kissing, cuddling, and the odd bum-squeeze) -- ie. holding hands, walking with an arm around the waist, smoothing the other's hair back out of their eyes -- nor do I think that most straight [...] people are probably aware of the fact that when I touch my partner in public, it's nearly always a considered act.

I don't obsess about this -- as in -- it doesn't eat up my days and nights -- and I'm probably about as "out" as a queer can be in this country -- but every single time I take my partner's hand on the street, or toss my arm over her shoulder or around her waist, hug her goodbye or hello, I do a little, tiny "security sweep".
[...] I don't edit myself this way because I am ashamed of being a lesbian. I do it because I'm afraid that someone else, who thinks I ought to be ashamed of being a lesbian, might hurt me -- or worse, hurt my beloved.
[...]I remember weeping in her living room as I tried to explain something that was, to her, completely invisible. I talked to her about how scary it had been to come out publicly after having led a fairly comfortable life as a closeted queer, and she just didn't seem to get why it should be a big deal at all.

So, I issued her and her husband a challenge (and I'll issue the same challenge to any straight coupled allies here who want to raise their awareness of LBGTQ issues):

Spend an entire week pretending that you're not a couple. Don't write a check from a joint bank account. Hide all the photographs in your home and office which would identify you as a couple. Take off your wedding rings. Touch each other, and talk to each other, in public, in ways that could only be interpreted as you being "friends". Refer to yourself only in the singular "I", never in the "we". When you go to work on Monday, if you spent time together on the weekend, include only information which would indicate that you went somewhere with a friend, rather than your life-mate. If someone comes to stay with you, sleep in separate beds. Go intentionally into the closet as a couple. For a week.

They took my challenge.

They lasted exactly three days.
I can't think of a single moment in my life where I didn't do a "security sweep" before taking Rich's hand, calling him "Honey," or just pecking him on the cheek. Even before Rich, every single act I made I made sure was "masculine," every girl I dated I made sure was "feminine enough" or "girly enough." Every time I was confronted with a situation which could have possible called into question who or what I was, I acted and faked it (and still haven't gotten an Oscar).

Self-preservation is a strong motivator... Perhaps too strong...

I dream of the day when I have to fear no longer, whether for my own, or for Rich's safety...

Friday, April 25, 2008

"That's Why God Made Curtains..."

So come the great words of wisdom from my mother. Ironically, my sister was just blogging about some of Mom's more colorful colloquialisms (among which is "The only good snake is dead snake...on a boot..."), and tonight on the phone, Mom decided to grace me with one as well.

It was about my pine tree. I happen to have lost one tree recently (that's one, one tree--ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...) due to the democratic process that is now my side yard. For years I have successfully fended off a certain someone from destroying the one bit of natural evergreen between my living room window and the neighbors bedroom window... Until a certain someone got whiff of the fact that the neighbors also weren't fond of a certain evergreen... The rest, as you can guess, is history... (minus a voting booth...)

On a very small, very slight upside, we can now use the cobblestone sidewalk that runs down between our houses... I know, "Big whoop." I agree. I'd rather have the evergreen.

So now when I look out my window, it is not green I see, but a stump and my neighbor's bedroom windows. And that's when wisdom spewed from my mother's mouth:
Mom: Well, that's why God made curtains!
Me: What?
Mom: That's why God made curtains! (She says this as if she's Ed McMahon handing me a check for three million dollars...)
Me: Was this before or after he created the light? Or--wait, is this how he separated the light from the dark...? I see, right there in Genesis, "And he separated the light from the dark with something in a floral print, not too gaudy, not too tacky, but juuuuuust riiiight...., and it was good. And the evening and the morning were the first day... Only he couldn't tell, because the material he picked was apparently 'Blackout' style, and thus woke up late on Day Two. This was not-so-good."
Mom: You are so bad!
Perhaps. But I'm still down one pine tree and a ton of privacy, even if that privacy was all in my head. I mean, let's face it, as far as barriers go, it was no Great Wall, but it was something, you know?

I just can't believe my tree, my beautiful pine tree, is gone...
Rose: You know how it is when you can't believe something.
Dorothy: Yes, I can't believe Alan Thicke has a hit series, but that doesn't mean it isn't so.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Micromanagement Will Be the Death of Me...

Boss: "Why didn't you use the yellow form?"
Me: "Why should I? It has everything the white form has on it; it's just yellow."
Boss: "But the yellow is meant to point out that it's a different client."
Me: "Isn't that what the line 'Client: _______' is for?"
Boss: "That's not the point. The point is, when you are doing paperwork for Client X, you have to use yellow."
Me: "But why?"
Boss: "Because... Is everyone else using the yellow form?"
Me: "I dunno..."
Boss: "We'll need to have a meeting. Go get Tom, Dick, and Harry*, and I'll get everyone else to my office... Say, 10 minutes?"
Me: "Because I didn't use the unneccessary yellow form? Isn't yellow paper more expensive?"
Boss: "I'm not sure, but we need to make sure we utilize the tools at our disposal. Ten minutes, my office."

*Names have been changed for no reason whatsoever...

This, unfortunately, is a daily occurrence in one form or another... No pun intended...

Thanks to the sis-in-law, Ann, for the link to the awesome cartoonist full of inspiration here.

Sigh. That'd be so nice...

6.5 more working days until vacation...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Political Humor...

Looking for Work

A Japanese doctor said, "Medicine in my country is so advanced that we can take a kidney out of one man, put it in another, and have him looking for work in six weeks."

A German doctor said, "That's nothing, we can take a lung out of one person, put it in another, and have him looking for work in four weeks."

A British doctor said, "In my country, medicine is so advanced that we can take half of a heart out of one person, put it in another, and have them both looking for work in two weeks."

A Texas doctor, not to be outdone said, "You guys are way behind. We took a man with no brains out of Texas , put him in the White House, and now half the country is looking for work."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Spaces In Between...

At 10:30 this morning, myself, and my two friends Scott and Michelle got into line at the Liberty High School in Bethlehem to see the one and only Hillary Clinton. The plan was: doors to open at 11:00; rally beginning at 1:00 pm; speech from Mrs. Clinton at 1:30 pm.

It felt like I was in line at Disney World on a hot summer day waiting for the bestest roller coaster in the world (but without the soda machines every 100 feet for your refreshment, $5.00-a-can rip-off enjoyment). Of course directly in front of us was the most all-out gusto'd Hillary supporters in the entire world--much like being trapped next to a fundamentalist when all you want is to enjoy your day in Las Vegas. Hillary this, Obama that... Even when the VIP persons were escorted through ahead of us, one of that group decided to stop them and tell them how they needed to show their VIP passes as it was very insensitive of them to breeze on by as if they were more important than they were (apparently, no one had ever explained to them what "VIP" meant...) We giggled, getting the evil eye of the gusto Hillary lady. Seriously, though, "insensitive"? Whatever...

We actually didn't get through the security doors until 12:45, and when everyone finally made it into the gymnasium and the "rally" started, Hillary didn't come out to speak until closer to 2:30. I almost left I was so bored. It seemed much less a political rally than a high school pep rally, which kind of pissed me off. Having never been to one of these events before, though, I had thought it would be more... I dunno, more "issues" oriented and less "Hillary Rocks" oriented. Perhaps I expect too much...

It wasn't too bad, even considering everything she said was close to the news excerpts we heard every night on the television. As we left and discussed how universal her health care might prove to be, and why (or why not) we agreed with her stances on NAFTA, tax plans, and such, a man stopped us on the street as we walked by when he shouted, "So did she lie?"

"No, she didn't lie!" Scott said as he kept walking by.

I stopped to address him: "What has she lied about?"

"She's always lying about Obama, and she lies when she says she'll help us out with health care. Now Obama, he's the man who'll get things done, I tell you."

"But what specifically has she lied about?" Scott and Michelle stopped about ten feet up to patiently wait--they know and accept me, bless them.

"She'll never cut taxes! And she voted for war! She's never apologized for that! Now Obama is gonna bring home the troops and save us from passin' this debt onto our kids."

"You still haven't said anything she's lied about. Plus, both she and Obama are going to end the war with very very slight strategic differences," I replied.

"Man, you are blind, she's blinded you with her lies," and he moved on.

I was a little perturbed with this type of blind loyalty to a political nominee--after all, I had just endured it from one side, and now the other side, who seem to have been waiting just outside the gates, were on the attack. Three more times (twice for Obama, once for Nader) we were stopped and challenged in much the same manner with nothing more than sound bites and witticisms.

Is this all that the primaries are now? Is this all they have ever been, and I've just been too disinterested to notice?

I'm still no closer to knowing for sure whom I wish to vote for (although I have strong leanings...), but I do know that none of their supporters is an effective tool. But perhaps this type of loyalty wins over more people than it turns off--who am I to say for sure? Voter turn-out has increased dramatically in this past year, and it's not all due simply to Shrubya's idiocy. Despite who wins, he's out no matter what! (Thank goodness for tiny, belated favors...)

It's like trying to choose between two red apples. The difference between Hillary and Obama are more minuscule than the difference between clams and oysters... Except all their stompers seem much more poisonous than ever... It's much like the blind faith placed in gods and such--not healthy, and very off-putting...

Can I ask you, dear readers, what clinched your choice for president and why? (And please, keep it sane, logical, and well-reasoned...) What is the space, the gulf of difference between them, which allowed you to choose?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Come to My Window...

We stared behind the bush.

Me: Is it...?
Rich: Yeah, but...

"But" said it all. We were staring at a window... A window, I might add, that only exists on the exterior of our home.

If I were C.S. Lewis, I might fashion wondrous tales of ogres, elves, white queens and lions, fighting an epic battle in the very insulation of my home, the only portal of which exists between the bricks of my humble Cape Cod. My nieces and nephews would grab a step ladder when Rich and I were engaged elsewhere, lift its sagging panes and climb through into the darkness to be greeted by a Pan named Dan in a tan van with a plan, man... Olivia, Henry, Devin and Ceili (and I suppose Nathan, Brenton, Gavin and Sam would come along for good measure... Or perhaps they would star in the sequel, "Return to Windowia") would all go on adventures that would teach them life lessons about good and evil, better and best, bad pans and good pans with no-stick surfaces...

The wood is a bit rotted, the paint peeling, and we're wondering if we should tear down the dry wall and open it to the inside. Of course, the giant fire bush that has blocked it's view for years, preventing our knowledge of its existence, hides most of the ugliness. In fact, if one were to be inside our home and staring at where this window should be, you'd be cooking on the stove... And if the window were open and you were cooking on the stove, you'd get to stare at the neighbor's deck...

Ah-ha! I think. Previous owner's avoidance tactics! Of course! Probably not, but it's nice to think that Kel and I aren't the only one's in the world who abhor small talk with general-area persons of non-interest...

I must also remember: this is the same house which has five light switches in seven slots at the top of our basement stairs, only two of which do anything noticeable...

The same house which, when we dug up and planted some flowers in the front, found three cinder blocks lined up in a row for no apparent reason whatsoever just a few inches under the soil...

The same house which, if you go into the attic, you can peer down between the walls all the way to the dirt under the foundation (with a flashlight...), has reverse-polarized outlets, water that pauses every five minutes for about ten seconds and dyes your whites a brilliant orange-ish iron color....

Yep, they certainly don't make 'em like this anymore...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


How much do they pay people to get on television and say things like "I have genital herpes"? And I wonder how that impacts that particular actors love-life after that? Granted, the person standing behind them that gets to say "And I don't" must be giggling like a school girl off-camera. I know I would.

And who in the hell has $499 a month with $3,999 down to lease a frickin' car for three years? I don't care if you can talk to the car like Rosie from The Jetsons. Tell you what--why don't you save yourself some grief and lease my goodwill for three years? Send me $3,999 down and $499 a month (send to PayPal address, and I guarantee my goodwill toward you for three years--and you needn't even fill me up with gas every week. I guessing if you have that kind of money to throw away on a car you'll never own (but have the privilege of keeping up after for three years), you won't miss sending it to me...

I also heard today that WalMart is the single biggest retailer of fire arms in the United States... I found that a bit shocking to say the least...
Jason: Hey, Baby, I'm running to WalMart to get some flower pots, dog food, a rifle, and something for dinner... What are you hungry for, and should I hunt it down on the way home?
Rich: Uh...
I imagine this conversation happens a lot more often in Alabama than New York, but I don't put it past our own Pennsylvanian mountain folk to consider this... It's probably happened in my bloodline more than once...

I'm also wondering--if the Christians Children's Fund stopped advertising on television every afternoon on the CW about how .70 cents a day can save a child's life with food, clothes, and a thorough brain-washing for Jesus, how many children would their advertising budget save alone? And just think, they wouldn't have to mail out all those photos of children either--why, the savings in postage alone will feed and clothe half a kid per picture per day! Imagine!

Just imagine...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

War of the Lilacs...

It started last weekend. It was a sunny day, birds were chirping, the neighbors were out doing... Well, "suburbanite" things like walking the dogs, washing the cars...

I was declaring war.

I stepped out onto the deck, sun glinting off my sun-glasses. With shovel in one hand, pick-axe in the other, and Macho-Macho Man playing in my head, I walked down toward the garage in the back and surveyed Jungle Junior. (Jungle Senior exists in the front yard and is in process of "slash and burn" techniques meant to kill English ivy, poison ivy, and other nefarious ground covers...)

Having neglected to take a picture of Jungle Junior (I-I-I apologize... Rosy, get my hat...), you just have to take my word... I probably killed a few native species, ruined a few ecosystems, and was punished by having to engage in... Dare I say? Will you think less of me? Neighbor talk!!!! Ugh...

Two weekends, two nephews, two broken shovels (I see a theme developing... I blame it on the "Noah" effect...), and having given away approximately thirty lilacs (Ooops! Never mind...), this is what I have to show for it:

I know it doesn't look like much... And really, it isn't supposed to. After all, I removed everything but that freakin' fire bush stump, seen here:

The six sarsaparilla trees? Gone (but let me tell you--I've never wanted a sarsaparilla soda more than at that moment...). The forty lilacs? Gone. The two maples? Gone. The ten-foot-high, fifteen-foot-wide fire bush (obviously not of the dwarf variety...)? Now a two feet by three stump which will be graced with morning glories until feeling returns to my fingers and the blisters disappear...

It is a good feeling, though. Henry and Devin helped by hunting down worms and placing them in a bucket (not to worry--they were placed back in the dirt before sun down...) in the hopes they would become butterflies (not expecting any doctorates there...)

The reason? This is where the vegetable garden will be placed, owing to the 8 hours of sunlight this area of the yard receives each day in the summer. It'll all be worth it when I'm eating my home-grown salad with corn on the cob fresh off the grill...

Well, to me it'll be worth it. To Rich, it just means we need to replace two shovels (those things are never as strong as I think they should be...) and buy some fencing to keep the evil rabbits (with big nasty teeth!) from partaking in the salad bonanza about to occupy this space...

After all... This. Is. War...

And war never looked as if it was gonna taste so good...

Now where did I put that Tylenol...? (Thirty-one never felt so old...)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Moral Defense of Evolution; Or,
Why Creationism is a Highly Immoral Stance on Life in General...

I would first like to apologize for this not happening on Saturday as was originally proposed: I was dealing with--well, let's just say a "stomach thing" and spare you all the details, shall we?
First off, let me be clear on this: What I want to do is make a positive argument for evolution, not necessarily against creationism. After all, it is hard to do the one without doing the other, but I am going to make a concerted effort to keep this about evolution's positives, not creationism's severe lack.

With that said, we must first lay out what it is exactly that I mean by "moral." "Morality" is usually tied into a religious frame, the underlying rationale being "all good things come from god." Hence, for anything to be labeled moral or immoral, it must automatically be framed by and for (and sometimes against) religion. Morality, of course, has no such qualms--it need not be a "religious" thing than a "nonreligious" thing; morality, simply put, is a set of rules or norms for the "right" way of behaving in a society of human beings (underlined words are key). In other words, when speaking of anything in moral terms, it must be viewed as that for which it is: What we decided, as a society, was best for the society, and the individual inhabitants of that society. And while "moral concepts" could be wedded to religious tenants and doctrines, it is not necessary nor is it fundamental to the concept.

What then could I possibly mean by a "moral defense" of evolutionary theory? you may be wondering. What does a science about the diversity of life on the planet have to do with "doing the right thing" in "a society of human beings"?

Well, I'm glad you asked... And if you didn't ask, take the above as what you should have asked... Moral arguments are not relevant to the historical evidence of evolution, nor to the predictive power of the theory of evolution, but by suppressing or undermining knowledge of biology with "creationism," medical progress is impeded, as you will see below. And that means death, suffering, and disease that might have been prevented; thus, creationism should be judged as morally evil.
Evolutionary theory, as noted above, is the science devoted to the diversity of life on the planet, and how that diversity came to be, nothing more, nothing less. (And before you go off on a tangent about the meaning of "theory" and how it relates to science, see here) It does not speak to origin of life at all, nor does it speak to "creators" in any way, shape or form (that is strictly for philosophical and quasi-philosophical circles...). Be that as it may, many rabid bible readers like to force upon evolution much more than it is in the hopes of waylaying the theologically inconvenient facts about evolution, so far as to try to equate a lack of scientific study, scientific research, and scientific facts known as "Intelligent Design" or "Creationism" with an overwhelming host of scientific study, scientific research, and scientific facts known as "The Theory of Evolution," so much so that they demand it be taught in American classrooms during science and biology classes. And we must ask, is that right? Is that moral?

The short answer is: No! Creationism shouldn't be given equal time and attention in school as, not only is it a horse of a different color (not to mention world), but it's not science, and it would be completely immoral to pretend it was so.

The long answer goes like this: No! (Don't worry--long answer continues in next paragraph...)

The long answer goes something like this:
  • ID'ers and creationists say that evolutionary science is dangerous, and leads to all kinds of immorality, and that it should not be taught in schools (or taught in such a way as to make it seem like "a guess" and watered down to nothing more than "maybes" and "far-flung" possibilities). In effect, this would mean not only less children going into the scientific fields of biology and medicine, as well as other evolutionary-based sciences, but that the public at large will grow up ignorant of the basics of science and biology.
  • DNA and genome-based treatments and medicines rely on the facts of evolution--its methods, practical applications, and its general knowledge--to fight infectious diseases, develop vaccines, new therapies and treatments... This list could go on forever! DNA mapping sequences don't just happen, you know. And neither do vaccines and medicines. All of the research and time spent on developing these medicines to save lives are based on the very real, very factual evolutionary sciences. Thus, evolutionary science (and by default, the theory of evolution) are moral sciences taking moral actions, saving human lives, treating human problems, making human lives better.
  • To deny and prevent the use of the evolutionary sciences will prevent and harm humanity as a whole, not only knowledge-wise, but in the very scary realm of disease, pestilence, and death--a very immoral position which places humanity in jeopardy from future problems and issues relating to virus's, bacterium, and genetically destructive mutations.
  • Therefore, if we reduce the ability of sciences to cure, prevent, or treat human causes of suffering over "theologically important" views, an immoral and deadly position has been staked.
  • Ergo, to support evolutionary facts and discoveries, and opposing false sciences based on theological criteria, is the right and moral thing to do.
Arguably, the only thing creationism has brought to bear in the realm of disease-fighting is prayer--prayer which has lead to the deaths of hundreds of people throughout history, most recently a poor 11-year-old Wisconsin girl, who's parents decided she didn't need a doctor for her diabetes, just prayer. (From the article: [Everest Metro Police Chief Dan] Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness. The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said. They believed the key to healing "was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray," he said...) You won't find the term "diabetic ketoacidosis" in any book of the bible, and we can certainly see that prayer doesn't do people a lot of good when it comes to the moral implications of this story: You simply cannot rail against the evils of science and modern society without creating very dangerous ignorance.

Evolution is the central underpinning, the central truth of which all biology is understood and revealed (and by which all of medicine is based upon). To remove evolution from classrooms--indeed, to say creationism is somehow equal to or greater than evolution--would be like saying that biology itself is somehow unimportant, or even false! It would be much like if creationists got upset about the way math works, especially in regards to addition (but claimed no real issue with subtraction, multiplication, or division) all because of a passage in which god claimed he made two plus two equal five: Whether or not they had a problem with the other three basics of math wouldn't matter, because they would in effect be rendering all of mathematics as somehow "false" because it was theologically inconvenient! And while we could take the time to explain how an engineer builds an automobile based on certain premises, the least of which includes two plus two equaling four, not five, but I think you get the picture: Saying that math is false based on the bible is a stupid thing to say, just like saying evolution is false for the same reasons.

The truth of evolution is what has kept most of them alive today (a moral quandary of sorts, if you ask me), and to try to somehow negate facts to suit your "religious freedom" not only is insulting to all science and medicine as we know it today, but an injustice to any type of "moral stance" religion tries to make. After all, it was not a god or a devil which came up with cancer, AIDS, or polio: just an algorithm known by us as evolution. And it was evolution which also allowed us to fight, prevent, and sometimes cure these very ailments, plus many more.

And that is a very moral thing indeed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Science Lesson on Earth-Age...

So my mother (as you know, a regular commenter on this forum) had a few questions regarding the age of the Earth, and how we come to know that creationists are liars (or bumbling idiots, if you prefer that they simply misinform "by accident" or "through ignorance").

Her question was:
i still wonder how they start with any of the numbers they seem to date things with. don't you have to start with the very beginning of when it started out with to come up with the right number of years? like when you are born you are this many days, months, or years old from this time. i would like that explained to me. (so i can understand please.)
I will be happy to oblige, Mom.

A. A Brief History of Earth-Aging Techniques.
Before the discovery of naturally occurring radiation (hell, before the discovery of radiation period!) it was generally assumed that the age of the Earth could be best determined by men who had been around since as long as we (collectively) could remember. Thus, the bible and other "ancient" (relatively speaking) books which recorded who begat who and when was seen as a "complete" picture for as to when and how the Earth came to be--after all, people lacked the proper knowledge and information to make an educated guess, and therefore "theories" defaulted to what we did know (i.e., the "god" theory) which inevitable placed the Earth, no matter how you did the math, at a few thousand years old. Not only did this view of Earth-Age default to "creationism," but it also defaulted to mankind being the only reliable "gauge," or constant if you will, to the keeping of time.

There's a reason we call this period of time "the Dark Ages," when man thought he was the end-all be-all of life on Earth (which, in case you were wondering, we are not). We didn't know Jack Shit (or his also-popular cousin Jack Squat) about anything mainly because we took the creationist approach to everything in life as opposed to the scientific approach, which can be summed up as such:
Creationist Approach to Science: Take a preconceived idea, then look for any available data (whether within context or not) to back that "theory" (i.e., preconceived notion) into looking like something resembling a good idea.

Scientific Approach to Science: Ask a question, and then try everything within your power to prove that notion wrong in any way, shape, or form that you can think of. If the idea withstands every single attempt you can think of (and then that everyone else can think of using honest, testable methods), then what you have is a working theory which will be assumed true until otherwise honestly, retestably disproven.
This is the method that has illuminated the world, nay, the universe, into the amazing place in which we find ourselves: living longer, healthier, better.

B. How Science Knows the Age of the Earth (Give or Take a Few Years):
It's actually very simple. You take a certain atom, find out how long it has been decaying, and "Walla!", you know that creationists are nothing if not full of hot air. In layman's terms, the reason we know that the Earth is about 4.60 ± 0.07 billion years old is due to the fact that certain atoms decay at very stable, very measurable rates, and thus depending on how decayed those isotopes are, that's how old the isotope is, and thus the age of the item from which the isotope has been removed. (Granted, this is very simplified, but you get the idea.)

In technical terms:
Radiometric dating is based on the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes that occur naturally in rocks and minerals. These parent isotopes decay to stable daughter isotopes at rates that can be measured experimentally and are effectively constant over time regardless of physical or chemical conditions. There are a number of long-lived radioactive isotopes used in radiometric dating, and a variety of ways they are used to determine the ages of rocks, minerals, and organic materials. Some of the isotopic parents, end-product daughters, and half-lives involved are listed in Table 1. Sometimes these decay schemes are used individually to determine an age (e.g., Rb-Sr) and sometimes in combinations (e.g., U-Th-Pb). Each of the various decay schemes and dating methods has unique characteristics that make it applicable to particular geologic situations. For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as 147Sm, is not very useful for measuring the age of a rock only a few million years old because insufficient amounts of the daughter isotope accumulate in this short time. Likewise, the 14C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites. Some methods work only on closed systems, whereas others work on open systems.1 The point is that not all methods are applicable to all rocks of all ages. One of the primary functions of the dating specialist (sometimes called a geochronologist) is to select the applicable method for the particular problem to be solved, and to design the experiment in such a way that there will be checks on the reliability of the results. Some of the methods have internal checks, so that the data themselves provide good evidence of reliability or lack thereof. Commonly, a radiometric age is checked by other evidence, such as the relative order of rock units as observed in the field, age measurements based on other decay schemes, or ages on several samples from the same rock unit. The main point is that the ages of rock formations are rarely based on a single, isolated age measurement. On the contrary, radiometric ages are verified whenever possible and practical, and are evaluated by considering other relevant data. (Source.)
This article is a tough read if you aren't used to engaging your neurons in heavy reading, but if you are able to, it's well worth the read!

Another way we can gauge the age of the universe is through light. (You know, that thing supposedly created and separated from darkness on Day One?) Light travels at a certain speed in the vacuum of space--never faster, never slower. It is constant at exactly 299,792,458 m/s (meters per second). Thus, when we look at a star (let's say, for shits and giggles, Alpha Centauri): we know that it is 4.22 light years away (i.e., it took 4.22 years for the light originating on that star to reach our eye balls...) But there are stars we see that have taken millions of years for their light to cross the cosmos, some as much as 500 million light years away! Thus that star, this universe, has been around for at least that long!

Of course, the standard "creationist" answer to this "issue" is that god, when he created the stars, created the "light beams" from those stars already in place--that is, even though "light" was somehow created on Day One, and "stars" were created on Day Four (even though somehow the sun doesn't make "star status," being called "the greater light"...), that is "proof" that the universe couldn't possibly be older than 6,000 to 10,000 years--the light was "already there." In other words, the light being seen never came from the star itself, but somehow "appeared" midway so that people would see the star long before its light ever got here. This would be a lot like California raisins coming from California to Pennsylvania in just under 2 hours: The raisins aren't really from California because they (and the horse they rode in on) popped into existence a mere two hours away--thus, not California raisins, but "midway" raisins deceptively created to seem like California raisins... Or if I were traveling to Pennsylvania from California--did I actually exist if I were created "midway" and made it to PA in two hours? Was I actually ever coming from California? The answer would be a patent "No!" It would only seem as if I had traveled from California, when in fact I did no such thing...

The only huge issue with this "theory" (disregarding the plethora of smaller ones...) is that, when we see stars exploding, or meteors and comets collapsing into black holes, did they actually happen? Or were those light beams also created midway, and to what purpose? It would seem a great big lie, a deception, if you will, on the part of the supposed creator! These events are fallacies of what "would have happened" if the universe were millions of years old... Do you see the problem? God creates a light show that never happened, but which he knew would "seem" millions of years old?

If one is going to believe, and take on "faith," that the bible is the perfect revelation of god, but that the light (and it's constant speed) is contradicting this, how can one trust any physical evidence at all? And if the physical evidence is deceptive, and cannot be trusted as reliable, what is a person to make of his "perfect word", his "written revelation"? How do they even know that the last five minutes happened?! It all could have been created "midway"!!! Jesus might never have died! Adam most likely never sinned!! Where is the "cut-off" for deceptive "midway" creations?

If these fake star deaths, comet collisions, and black hole-forming light shows never happened, how do we know that anything we perceive is true? Once we credit the "god theory" with "midway light" from stars, we credit god with a whole host of deceptive physical things which cannot be held true--in fact, any and all data is at best deceptive, at worst patently false... God would be deceiving us in everything we see, taste, hear, feel, or smell...

If one cannot reconcile the deceitfulness of god (or at the very least, the deceitfulness of his creation) with the biblical belief that god is "good" and non-deceitful, then we must conclude that the light has, in fact, been traveling for millions of years...
So, there you have it: the reason we know that the Earth is as old as science says it is. So for those of you who didn't know, I hope you got an education; for those of you who did know, I hope this was an adequate (albeit short and sweet) refresher course, and for those of you who stick your heads in the sand and call it "faith," well here's hoping that while your head is in the sand, you take the time to measure it's age radiometrically and learn a thing or two...

Time allowing, by this Saturday: A Moral Defense of Evolution. (Trust me, it's not only possible, but factual...)