Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Problem With Atheists These Days

Most Muslims are ok.  Most Christians are ok.  Most people, in general, are ok, including atheists.  But then you get the extremists and by this, I don't mean hairy little men running around donning the finest in tea-towel head equipment and high-yield explosive devices as their latest fashion accessories. Oh no, no.  I'm talking about the irrational passionates whose reaction dials are permanently set to 'knee-jerk'.  This is kind of like most microwave ovens which are never set to any power setting other than high.

Yes, I agree that Christianity has dominated Western culture for quite long enough and religious privilege is driving secularists such as myself up the wall.  Here in New Zealand, Christianity is still permitted to be taught in secular schools which in this day and age is quite absurd really.  In the long run, this needs to be addressed, but it's not - or rather should not at all be - a priority call (see my blog Abolishing Religious Instruction From New Zealand Secular Schools) as there are much more pressing issues at stake, such as religion having a direct influence on legislation.  The lesser issues and everything else?  Meh, we'll get around to dealing with them when we've got some spare time.  Well, at least that's how it should be anyway.

Unfortunately, we have individuals, groups, and organisations rallying together to speak up and fight the little things and believing quite incorrectly that the little things will lead to rectifying the greater issues.  Nope, not at all.  That's not how the church plays ball and whether you like it or not, the church is setting the rules and the knee-jerks are playing precisely the way the church anticipates them to play.  Not only are the knee-jerks ingorant of this fact, they DON'T WANT TO KNOW.  I guess it's a pride thing.  You know, we wouldn't want religious people to be smart and ahead of us now, would we?

So the problem with atheists these days, or more accurately, the outspoken anti-theist atheists, is that they react to anything and everything religious and have little or zero understanding of the battle they are fighting or whom they are fighting against.  They exhibit no tolerance at all and quite frankly, they are no different to religious fundamentalists who won't even so much as allow a lesbian to enter a bridal shop.  Yes, we need to separate religion and state because bigotry has no place in society and its governing legislation, but is witnessing a small thank-you prayer before a corporate meal or school exam really shoving religion down one's throat?  Is it something to lose our minds over?

The very psychology behind the closed mindedness that keeps people religious and irrational is the exact same psychology that causes the anti-theist to seek out and smack down anything and everything religious.  Or to put it more bluntly, to deny all religious people of any religious freedom whatsoever, regardless of whether it has any effect on those around them or not.

At the end of the day, being such an intolerant insolent because of a harmless superstitious tradition makes you look like a fool when you react so strongly to a practice that you insist you don't believe in. The people who do take public prayers seriously (a lot don't and only say these prayers to keep other traditionalists happy) will take one look at you and triumph at the fact that the power of prayer is demonstrably real by the manifestation of the evil within you trying to resist God's power. Not only that, but they will get up to tell everyone in Church how God is working through them because yet another non-believer has been defeated by the power of Jesus Christ through prayer. You think that sounds like utter tripe? Then get a grip and stop making the rest of us look like weak non-religious pansies.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

But You're Not A Scientist!

In recent discussions with evolution deniers, quite often I've been told two things.  One is that I'm not a scientist so how would I know what I'm talking about and the other is that I have to take a scientist's word on faith.  At first glance, these seem like reasonable statements, however, when you slow them down and look at them more closely, you will find that they aren't so accurate.

Let's first look at the fact that I am not a scientist.  The definition of scientist is as follows:

"A person engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge that describes and predicts the natural world. In a more restricted sense, a scientist may refer to an individual who uses the scientific method."

Now let's look at the definition of expert:

"A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area."

A scientist is a person who acquires knowledge and an expert is a person who learns about and understands the information acquired by the scientist.  We aren't all scientists.  It takes scientists to figure out how to design a working helicopter, but it takes an expert engineer to build one and an expert aviator to fly one.  Most helicopter pilots would be unable to build one and most helicopter engineers would be unable to fly one.  Then there are scientists who not only figure out how to build better helicopters, but can also engineer and fly them.  Having said this, you don't necessarily have to even be an expert to fly one.  Every pilot has to start somewhere, right?

For over 150 years, scientists have been studying and acquiring knowledge that contributes to the continually developing theory of evolution.  These scientists have provided the information and all we need to do is learn this information.  A person who studies a particular topic, such as the theory of evolution, is usually an expert compared to those who don't understand it at all.  If you are unsure about someone's expertise on a particular topic, just check their claims by going back to the original source of information provided by the scientists.

Let's look at the second claim made about me.  I have to take a scientist's word on faith.  The two definitions of faith are as follows:

1. "Complete trust or confidence in someone or something."
2. "Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof."

Usually, when someone accuses you of accepting a scientist's word on faith (yes, this is an accusation), they are using a logical fallacy called false equivocation.  This means they are using one definition of a word that doesn't match the context in which that word is being used.  In this case, the accuser is using the second definition of the word faith which is belief without evidence rather than the correct definition which is trust or confidence in the scientist.

Now even using the correct definition can cause reason to doubt considering the fact that it's possible to trust someone who is wrong, but trusting a scientist's word doesn't by necessity have to be by belief without evidence.  Trusting a scientist can and should be based on looking at the evidence presented.

Bill Nye is often ridiculed by doubters for not being a scientist.  As I've demonstrated, there's a difference between being scientist and being an expert.  You don't need a PhD in physics to pilot a helicopter.  You don't need a PhD in biology, paleontology, geology, zoology, chemistry, molecular biology, taxonomy, mathematics, cosmology, physics, probability, anthropology, archaeology, history or philosophy to learn about and be an expert among your peers on how evolution works.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

If Something Can't Come From Nothing, Then Who Created The Universe?

See this storm cloud?

To say it came from nothing would be absurd, right?  Of course it would, but would it be sensible to say that there must have been a mind behind it, or would that be equally as absurd? To say that because you can't get something from nothing, the only conclusion is that it had to have been intelligently designed, that is called a false dichotomy, or false dilemma.

In ancient times, before humans had knowledge of the behaviour of warm and cold air, air pressure, precipitation, etc, it seemed perfectly sensible to them to assume that a thunderstorm was the manifestation of the gods since there was no other explanation available.  This may seem ridiculous to us now, but we do still hear claims of the very same false dichotomy being made today.  Just as our distant ancestors didn't understand the physics of meteorology, we do not yet understand the causes behind the existence of our universe.  Claims are continually being made that because something can't come from nothing, then the only other explanation is intelligent design.  This is a false dichotomy saying it has to be one or the other and deliberately leaving no room for further exploration of what may have preceeded our universe as we know it.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Is There One Piece Of Evidence That Proves Evolution?

Time and time again I've had people say to me, "Show me one piece of evidence that proves evolution to be true."  What an annoying request.  It's a silly request.  It's like saying, "Show me one piece of evidence that proves agriculture to be true."  Where do you start?  Is there one stand-alone example capable of proving agriculture?  No, and one of the reasons that evolution deniers make this ridiculous demand is because they don't understand (nor want to know) what the word theory means in science.

In everyday language, theory most commonly means hypothesis, or an idea that hasn't been tested.  For example, if I found a broken glass on the kitchen floor, in answer to what happened, I could say my theory is that the four year old running around the house knocked it off the counter top.  This seems perfectly reasonable since she's knocked over other things during the course of the day.  But that is only a hypothesis and looking back through the security footage, I would find that it was in fact the cat that broke the glass.  So you see, theory in this sense is just a baseless hypothesis, or educated guess that is prone to inaccuracy.

In the scientific community, theory has an entirely different meaning.  While laypersons use the word theory to cover multiple meanings, the scientists use less ambiguous language - hypothesis, theory and law.  Hypothesis is an idea that needs to be tested and proven.  Theory is an explanation of how a particular area of science works.  Law is a statement of fact.  If a scientific law is ever proven to fail, it ceases to be law.  A scientific theory is usually continually being developed and refined.  You may hear people say that theories are always changing so you can't trust them, but that is a dishonest statement.

When a new scientific discovery is made, it adds to the relative theory, usally filling in gaps or adjusting a small part to a more accurate explanation.  Change in a scientific theory does not mean the entire theory is thrown out and replaced with another theory, which is what evolution-deniers would like you to believe.  The same goes for the claim that science is always changing its mind.  No, science is always being refined and added to.

Let's look at some other applications of the word theory in science.  We have gravitational theory.  It doesn't mean we're guessing that there is gravity (although flat earth believers would make that claim), it is an explanation of how gravity works, how it behaves, etc.  We have germ theory.  It doesn't mean we're guessing that there are germs, it is an explanation of how germs behave, how they evolve, how they affect other animals, etc.  We have music theory.  It doesn't mean we're guessing that music exists, it is an explanation of how different frequencies of sound are produced, behave, interract, etc.  And then we have evolutionary theory.  It doesn't mean that we're guessing that evolution happened, it is an explanation of how biological life evolved, how natural selection works, etc.

So going back to one peice of evidence that proves evolution, the reason we can't provide once piece of evidence is because the theory of evolution is a thorough explanation of the diversity of life.  It covers many fields, such as biology, molecular biology, chemistry, paleontology, taxonimy, zoology, and so forth.  Just as I can't give you once piece of a puzzle to prove the puzzle is a picture of a tiger, I can't give you one piece of evidence to prove the theory of evolution to be fact because the entire theory of evolution can't be proven with one piece of evidence alone. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Did We Land On The Moon?

This is likely one of the greatest and most argued conspiracies of all time.  The problem now is that there is so much information readily available from both sides of the debate and it's difficult to distinguish the truth from the fiction.  Both sides present such compelling 'evidence' to support their arguments that you may possibly find it tiresome and end up just picking a side and going with it - and I fear that this has happened in many cases.
In this article, I will look into the observable evidence available to us.  Before I start, we need to be clear on what observable evidence is.  A common misinterpretation of observable evidence is the need to see an event take place.  For example, evolution deniers will say we have no observable evidence in support of the theory of evolution because we weren't there millions of years ago to see it take place.  This is a false equivication.  Evidence for a past event is not the event itself but the clues left behind.  We do have an overwhelming amount of observable evidence for the theory of evolution, such as the fossil record, geological record, molecular biology, etc.  If my house was burgled last night while I was out, the observable evidence available would be fingerprints, DNA, security footage and any other telling signs that may be found, like a dropped driver's license (wouldn't that be hilarious!).

The Footage

When the first Apollo mission lauched in 1969, there were plenty of spectators there witnessing the event, but eyewitness accounts are the most unreliable sources of evidence.  Nevermind, because we have visual footage of this happening.  There is no doubt that a rocket was launched, but what if it was just for show and never actually landed on the moon?  Good question.  We have footage of the lunar modual descending onto the lunar surface.  But what if it was fake footage made in a studio in the Nevada desert?  Good question.  They did not have the technology to create a continuous film at that length.  For a video offering a more in depth explanation of the technology that would be required to pull off such a hoax, click here.


One of the purposes of landing on the moon was to set up a retroreflector.  This is a reflector that will reflect light back to its source from a wide range of angles with minimum scattering of light.  In other words, you can point a laser at it and the laser will reflect right back to you.  There are a number of retroreflectors on the lunar surface now and scientists use them to experiment with light, such as accurately measuring its speed.

Samples of Moon Rock

While the astronaughts were moonwalking, they spent a great deal of their time collecting samples of lunar soil and rock and lots of it.  But how do we know they came from the moon and not some desert here on earth? Good question.  The composition of space rock is quite different to rock you find here on Earth.  How do we know they aren't meteorites?  Good question.  These rocks show no signs of reaching extreme temperatures caused by air friction when entering the Earth's atmosphere.

Items Left Behind

Yep.  If you can't accept the observable evidence available to you, then go back to the scene of the crime.  There are many items left on the moon after the lunar missions, such as the lunar rover, flags, trash, retroreflectors as we mentioned earlier, golf club, golf ball, hammer, feather and many other items that the Apollo crews needed to discard to keep the lunar module as light as possible.

Here is a video comparing original landing footage with recent flyby footage of the landing site.

On a humourous note, take a look at this brilliant performance by Mitchell and Webb on faking a moon landing.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Abolishing Religious Instruction From New Zealand Secular Schools

The battle to have RI removed from New Zealand secular schools has been going on for a little while now. As a huge knee-jerk reaction I promptly volunteered to give my perspective on RI in schools as I had spent most of my life in children's ministry. I spent a few days writing a review on the curriculum used to teach RI and also a background on my own experience in children's ministry including my time as an RI teacher. In my background story and review I made sure I got straight to the point with brutal honesty. It wasn't the time to be politically correct or refrain from possible offences. The truth needed to get out and we be done with RI in our secular schools once and for all!

After some months of discussions, learning, reflecting and most importantly, thinking, I came to realize two things. Firstly, I had no support in light of the fact that I would be upsetting most of my friends and family which would inevitably cause a great tension between us and most likely end our relationships. The ‘support group’ for the campaign weren't particularly friendly and accepting of things that went against what they wanted to believe goes on in children's ministry. As someone who knows child and youth evangelism inside out, they should really take my thoughts and advice into consideration. At the end of the day, most of these people are on a warpath to eradicate something they don't really understand and once they've won the battle, they'll have no idea what their achievement actually means. I decided to pull out of the campaign and wash my hands of it. Many people were angry with me, but these people I've never met so no loss to me.

The second thing that I realized after much thought is that removing RI was going to cause an even greater problem. I should have seen this while I was writing my background story because I even mentioned it in there without recognising what I was getting at.  CEC puts their time and resources into RI which in my experience is the least effective form of children's evangelism. When we take this privilege away from them, they will then turn to more effective programs making an already problematic children's ministry more effective and quite frankly, dangerous.  The church sees legal battles that threaten their privilege to evangelize children as spiritual battles and in their eyes, spiritual trumps legal.  They will fight and they will fight dirty.  The law becomes irrelevant when souls are at risk.

Now don't get me wrong. When I say fight dirty, I don't mean there will be kidnappings and muggings. I mean the church will up their game and their tactics will move to the next level of cunning. The CEO of Churches Education Commission said himself, “This campaign against us has allowed us as an organisation to really get into an innovation space.” This isn't a benign comment.

What I believe we should be doing is educating, not having legal battles. The legal route is “we want this, we don't want that.” Educating is a much more approachable and effective way of making changes. As Dr Kerry Sparkman wrote in his book The Ant And The Ferrari, adding legislation and introducing tougher penalties is like putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff rather than addressing the reason that people are jumping off in the first place. Rather than say no to RI which will cause greater problems in the future, we should be working with those who provide it and also with the schools and address the problem that caused this issue in the first place - the choice to opt out rather than to opt in. I admit that the schools weren't taking the issue seriously enough, but take the school to court for not respecting parents’ wishes rather than taking the state to court and having RI abolished.

Do I support RI? No. Do I think it should be removed from secular schools? Yes, but only by going about it in in the right manner. Even the most friendly dog will bite if you poke it with sticks and the church is quite a large dog and not to be messed with recklessly. Right now, the best solution would be to have schools change RI from opt out to an extracurricular activity that parents can choose to opt in.

Monday, 20 June 2016

What is Genetic Information?

I have recently encountered a gentleman on YouTube who insisted that genetic information is lost during speciation. I asked him to demonstrate his reasoning and his evidence for this is "because it's obvious."  He is under the impression that because a chihuahua is smaller than its wolf ancestor and doesn't look like a wolf, then the genetic information needed to make a wolf has obviously been lost.  This reasoning comes as a result of a common misunderstanding among evolution deniers.  The fact is, a chihuahua still has the genes of its wolf ancestor but they reside in the genome as obsolete data.

I frequently hear this in combination with the fallacious second law of thermodynamics argument where it is argued that everything degenerates, therefore genetic information can only be lost, not gained.  Of course this is entirely untrue, but let's look at the crux of these arguments; the failure to understand what genetic information actually is.  The following is an excerpt from my book Answers In Evolution - Can Genetic Mutations Add Information to the Genome?

Read the following two sentences.

1. The large Boeing 747 passenger jet plane landed on the long flat runway airstrip before coming to a stop.

2. The Boeing 747 landed.

            What is the difference between these two sentences?  Does either one convey more or less information than the other or do they both tell the same story?  At first glance, one may be forgiven for claiming that there is more information in the first sentence than the second sentence.  But look again.  When you read, ‘The Boeing 747 landed’, does that give you a different picture than the first sentence?  We already know that a Boeing 747 is a large passenger jet plane, we already know that planes land on long flat runway airstrips, and we already know that the plane will inevitably come to a stop.
            The information in the first sentence is uneconomically portrayed, wasting time, data and money if this was a message sent via a paid means of communication such as text messaging, emails and the old-fashioned telegrams.
            Now let’s say we have a person who has never seen a Boeing 747 or an airstrip before.  This scenario changes our perception of information.  Whilst the second sentence contains enough information for a person who knows about aviation, it’s meaningless to one who does not.  In this case, the first sentence contains more information than the second sentence.
            So we see, information is only as valuable as its ‘surprise factor’.  If you didn’t know that the Boeing landed, then giving you the new information results in the surprise.  All of the superfluous information in the second sentence is of no surprise to you at all. Therefore, nothing is gained.  From this, we can draw two conclusions.  The first conclusion is that information can be useful in some applications and obsolete in others.  Information has no effect unless it causes a change.  The second conclusion is that there is a lot of obsolete information which is nothing more than random noise in the grand scheme of things.  This information causes no change under the relevant circumstances.

If you'd like to learn more on genetic information, you can purchase my book here.